Sunday 11 January 2009

Hail Vince! More evidence of that Lab-Lib plot?

It is a rare conspiracy theory that does not involve the Fabian Society in some form. Still, I felt it better not to stir last weekend's small flurry about Peter Oborne's highly speculative piece predicting that Gordon Brown could make Vince Cable Chancellor, by pointing out that Cable not only been interviewed by Roger Liddle (a former SDP colleague) in the new Fabian Review, now published, but that the interview was illustrated by Teal's excellent cartoon on the growing cult of Cable amidst the economic crisis.

So Next Left stuck to policy, simply noting the Guardian's report of Cable's very sensible comments on a long-term banking overhaul. But Fabian member and blogger Yousuf Hamid wondered whether something more should be read into the interview.

In truth, almost certainly not. But you can read the full text of the interview on the Fabian site and judge for yourself.

This is what Cable had to say about coalitions:

RL: The present polling is suggesting a hung parliament. Do you think that the logic is that you could end up as a Chancellor in a Brown government?

VC: No I certainly don’t. I think it’s rather improbable. You know our view on hung parliaments: if it happens, we would be willing to work with either party in the national interest. I know that sounds rather trite. But I think actually it will strike a chord in the way it wouldn’t have done a few years ago, because in a national emergency voters will respond to politicians who say what’s the point of trench warfare.

RL: Nick Clegg six months ago may have thought that he could work with a soft Conservative David Cameron. Is that the case any more?

VC: If at the next election, the Conservatives appear to have won a moral victory, even if they don’t have an overall majority, then we would feel we would have to sit down and talk.

It may be you are right that having sat down and talked, there is no common ground – but we would go into the election very clear that this would be one of the things we might have to do.

So, no smoking gun and a very straight bat, also reflected in Cable's interview in The Times this weekend.

I have always personally favoured much deeper dialogue between the two centre-left parties, and there is interest within both parties in that. The Fabian Society and CentreForum have worked together to provide some opportunity for that at both party conferences over the last couple of years, focusing as much on progressive ideas as party relations.

A case can be made for the strategic logic of Lab-Lib cooperation but, as discussed in responses to an earlier post of Stuart White's, the political barriers remain high. (Though, as these contrasting Guardian reports show, last Autumn's debate on the LibDem fringe was much warmer and more constructive than a more tribal Labour debate, I think this is considerably harder for the smaller party, in part because it is more of an existential question, and possible threat).

But it should at least be clear that the Labour, social democratic and liberal political traditions can learn a good deal from each other. Another good reason for being in the Vince Cable fan club is that he is among those LibDems who still stress the party's social democratic inheritance, identifying Tony Crosland and John Smith as his political heroes.


Robert Alcock said...

If the first polls of this year are right, and we are heading for a hung parliament, things could get extremely interesting. None of us can conclusively predict which way the Lib Dems may finally swing (if any), and whether it would be in the form of a coalition or some less formalised arrangement. Far-reaching electoral reform will, as ever, be pushed hard by the Lib Dems – and it’s a policy agenda that, as far as I am aware, has any even smaller minority support within Conservative ranks than Labour.

Given what, by all accounts, is a high level of internal party democracy, the aftermath of the next general election could present a massive headache for the Lib Dem leadership. Nick Clegg’s espousal of equidistance is, I suspect, sincere. Those early polls of 09 point to a Conservative plurality or seats but not a majority. Yet my own contacts with Lib Dem members over the years makes me believe the weight of their activists and representatives would be unable to stomach anything more than the most minimal co-operation with Cameron and co. at national level. That is despite the two parties’ capacity to forge local coalitions, such as to run Birmingham City Council.

It’s too apocalyptic to predict a full party split, which is always highly provocative – just ask Jon Cruddas – but exercising that kingmaker role in either direction could expose the Lib Dems to some major internal friction, and possibly significant defections.

Robert Alcock said...
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