Monday 27 September 2010

Blunkett says Labour should think about how to work with Lib Dems

David Blunkett said tonight that Labour and the Lib Dems need to “work out a way… of how we can work together.” However, his real fear, he said, was of a worst-case scenario with the Tories and the Lib Dems going into the next election with an even closer alliance – and Labour being “caught with its trousers down” again.

Speaking at the Fabian fringe meeting ‘Is Lib-Lab coalition gone forever?’ Blunkett – known for speaking out against a Liberal Labour deal in the aftermath of the general election – said:

“I think we should work out a way – through big politics, big thinking and maturity – of how we can work together. We need to broaden a coalition of progressive values to protect people against the scorched earth policy of the cuts…

I’ve been painted as the person who pulled the plug – with John Reid – on the coalition. At 515 that day I made the point that we didn’t have the arithmetic or the legitimacy. I’d have been in favour of putting together a progressive alliance with the Lib Dems if it had worked, much though it would have pained me…

I think we should think through now how we can coalesce with Lib Dems who want to stay in their party and Greens who want to stay in their party – so you can have major disagreements on some issues and pull together on other issues.”

However, Blunkett said that Labour needed to spend more time focusing on its own problems before thinking about the next election:

“The first thing is to get our own coalition together before we get one with the Lib Dems – and we should get on with that as from now.”

At the fringe meeting – where Mr Blunkett and Fabian General Secretary Sunder Katwala were joined by Lib Dems Dr Evan Harris and John Leech MP – there was some disagreement about how the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition would play out, especially when the next General Election draws nearer. Evan Harris argued, “I think the party will never accept a pact [with the Conservatives] and the leader will therefore never propose a pact.” And John Leech agreed: “I don’t think I can be clearer than saying ‘there will be no pact – there will be no deal.’”

But David Blunkett was not so sure:

“Can you imagine this: the coalition get to the election and then the Lib Dems start campaigning against Tory policies! … My worst scenario is that you won’t end up fracturing towards the end but you will find that Nick will say – and this is where his heart really lies – that we should have a ‘national progressive alliance’ with the Tories. That’s the worst scenario, and in the next four years Ed Miliband and the team need to start working on that and not – as we were on May 6th – be caught with our trousers down.”

Evan Harris countered that Labour had not made it easy:

“Labour found it very difficult to work with the Liberal Democrats on issues we AGREED on …. Language like ‘behaving like every harlot in history’ – ref D. Blunkett – makes us more defensive and protective. We don’t need to be charmed by someone who’s offensive to us. We don’t react well to this – it’s not a productive approach.”

However, the former MP admitted though that the Lib Dems in coalition had sometimes gone too far:

“Many of us do recognise that the most natural coalition is with the Labour Party … I don’t want to see the Huhne-Varsi show again – it looked party political. It should be just as easy for a senior Lib Dem and a senior Labour person to attack the Conservatives.”

Sunder Katwala agreed, saying that “There’s a risk that the Lib Dem leader becomes the chief anti-Labour hit man.”

Mr Blunkett, rising to leave the meeting, left the Liberal Democrats on the platform with a sage piece of advice: “Opposition’s dreadful but being in the position you’re in might actually turn out to be worse.”

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