Sunday 14 September 2008

No Lib-Lab love-in, but we need to talk

Iain Dale is overplaying (a great deal) what Vince Cable just said at the Fabian/CentreForum fringe.

But there was definitely a great deal of interest in dialogue between what all of the speakers regarded as the two parties with a genuine claim on the label "progressive", which Michael White of the Guardian noted was being "indscriminately" thrown around.

Vince Cable was clear that LibDems could only observe the shifting of tectonic plates, not try to make the weather in the Labour Party, but said that as a Shell Economist he had often conducted 'scenario planning' exercises, not about what would happen, but about what might happen.

What would happen if the present opinion polls were converted into reality at the next general election? Labour would lose massively. We would have two opposition parties in the progressive tradition. We would be relatively more powerful than last time.

And Cable said this of Labour's current debate, arguing it could spark another party civil war like that of the '70s.

... I was a footsoldier in the last civil war. I remember it. We could be approaching another realignment. We in the LibDems can not make that happen. But we need to be aware that these tectonic plates are shifting.

But that was very sharply knocked back by Charles Clarke.

“There is no possibility of a realignment of that kind. There is no SDP group as there was in that time in any form, in any shape whatsoever

I will make a prediction. My prediction is that no Labour MP will leave the Labour party, as Brian Sedgemore did in the last Parliament to join the LibDems

But Clarke did say of the need for dialogue:

“Dialogue between our parties is of fundamental importance at all levels. We need to be more open, less tribal, and more ready to talk more openly. We need more Fabian/CentreForum events on the issues. That is difficult for some in the Labour Party and for some in the LibDems".

And, answering Michael White's question about whether he regretted leaving the Blair government and not being in the Brown administration, Clarke said:

“I don’t think had I been in that Cabinet that I would have been in this Cabinet”

It was an excellent and brilliantly attended fringe. I will report more fully later, but am escaping back to London ahead of the next Fabian event here in Bournemouth on Tuesday.

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