Thursday, 5 February 2009

Charles Clarke on Lib-Labbery

James MacIntyre's New Statesman interview with Charles Clarke has an intriguing scoop on Tony Blair's rather unenergetic bid to promote a leadership challenge without telling Clarke of the plan.

Rather more parochially, Clarke responds to my advocacy last week of a Lab-Lib coalition: he wants more dialogue with the LibDems but, as in Bournemouth last Autumn, he has some tougher messages for parts of the third party too. This may leave me cast as good cop!

(One caveat: I do not advocate a party merger either, but a coalition which would also seek a mandate for wide-reaching constitutional reform. Stuart White - who has been a member of both parties - did, last December, ask why a progressive merger shouldn't be considered, but ended up convinced that this was not just unworkable but likely to derail valuable and looser forms of cooperation and dialogue).

The New Statesman website includes a full transcript of the interview, with quite a bit more detail on this than the magazine.

JM: And just on proportional representation for Westminster - wouldn't that usher in a whole new culture where the centre of gravity in politics and the media would be moved slightly leftwards, so that politicians didn't have to in election campaigns play to marginal seats and the rightwing press.

CC: Not in my view. I'm opposed to proportional representation. I'm actually in favour of the Alternative Vote


JM: And what about a merger with the Liberal Democrats - there was a piece in last week's New Statesman by Sunder Katwala calling for it, I just wondered if you were in favour -

CC: I saw Sunder's piece. I thought it was an interesting piece and I was a bit surprised by it in some ways. He mentioned me a couple of times rightly, because I have always favoured dialogue between ourselves and the Lib Dems. I think dialogue is necessary and to that end I've gone to their party conferences and spoken and that kind of thing.

But I am absolutely not in favour of merger - I don't think merger is the right way to go at all, and in fact I don;t think merger would help anything. I think there is a quite different party position, and what I said to their party conference this year and it remains my view, is that the Lib Dems still have a characteristic of the politics of the gutter in the way that they operate: they are fundamentally still oppositionist, whether opposition to Labour or opposition to the Conservatives, and they use a whole lot of techniques that reflect that.

Now within them there are some people of great integrity and perfectly decent people but they have an element to them which is purely oppositionist and my own view is that Nick Clegg hasn't yet succeeded in giving them any clear sense of direction which takes them away from being 'agin' the other lot.

Now historically in some parts of the Celtic region of the country and some parts of Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, the south west, they were able to develop out of the history of that part of the country as an authentic force. But until they can stop being just against things, I think it's difficult. But that said I am always in favour of dialogue with them - I think talking is a great thing.

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