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Talks progressing: but selling it to the parties?

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Paul Mason | 20:25 UK time, Sunday, 9 May 2010

I've been on Whitehall half the day - see the movie:

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Here's what I think is happening, based on calls to several wings of Labour and a source close to the Conservative team.

Lib-Tory talks are certainly progressing because the Conservatives proffered, and the Libdems accepted in principle the idea of a socially liberal government, real power sharing, significant cabinet seats and policy compromise. That is an alliance based on principle not tactical convenience.

But the sticking point is the scale of the Conservatives offer on PR (I cannot find out for definite what it is, but it's more than they started with and less than the libdems want - and it certainly does not include a referndum on full PR).

However both parties face major angst - from their membership, their blogosphere and their backbenches. I think tonight is all about trying to quell that. Libdems are speaking about various padlocking bills that would remove control over the electoral timetable from the PM in a LibTory government, so that Cameron would not be able to hold a permanent gun of summary dissolution to the Libdems' heads throughout the coalition.

If the memberships and backbenches don't buy the coalition, we could see a reversion to the minority Conservative government project but with a formal agreement to vote for budget and confidence.

Now to Labour. There is growing fury with Gordon Brown and, now they've had time to think about it, the campaign. I have spoken to several Labour backbenchers and apparachicks tonight - from different wings of the party - and the adjectives used to describe the campaign, the personal performance of the PM etc are generally disparaging: managerial is one of the repeatable ones.

Large parts of the Labour voting base, the Guardian etc, believe it's still possible to create the Lib-Lab-SNP "progressive coalition" and get PR. However very few front rank Labour politicians are out there arguing for it: Alistair Darling, despite having a hefty task in front of him in Brussels, has been the most upfront in keeping it alive.

During the day I have heard several high profile Labour backbenchers move over to the "go gracefully into opposition and do it soon" line, though mostly still in private.

Then there is the leadership issue. It breaks into two parts. First, even though there is no "coronation", if the David Miliband camp and the Jon Cruddas camp were to get together it would make David Miliband hard to stop. Labour would suddenly have, goes the argument, an Attlee and a Nye. A plausible centrist leader and a leftist who can reconnect with the base. This is being mooted but is not a done deal.

Since Harriet Harman has ruled herself out of seeking the leadership I can see Ed Miliband emerging as a candidate backed by parts of the union movement (eg the GMB) who don't want an alliance with David Miliband. Ed Balls would be backed to the hilt by the existing party machine, Unite and to an extent the "old Labour" left; also the Scottish Party.

The Labour NEC meets on Tuesday and Labour officials are in a rolling meeting schedule until then to decide how to respond if the party goes into opposition. One told me to expect civil war between the Brown "machine" and all those hitherto excluded from it, from the moment the PM leaves office.

And the Euro-crisis is also focusing the timescale with Labour as well as the Lib-Tory talks. If you think there will be an election in six months and the big issue is going to be competence and coherence of a Lib-Con coalition, the argument goes that anti-Euro David and pro-Euro Nick should probably be handed the job of dealing with the global fiscal meltdown as soon as decently possible.


  • Comment number 1.

    Selling it to the parties is going to be an easy (but noisy - full f sound and fury type thing) transaction surely?

    Power is a rather compelling sugar coating to any bitter pill is it not, they will make a lot of complaining noises anyway as a point of principal when presented with the required medicine .... but swallow it they surely will.

    The david milliband story is intriguing, with my new found political gambling...erm i mean investing habit I find myself inexorably dragged towards david milliband at even money to be the next labour leader. I have already invested in him but i reckon he is good for a bit more. labour will see him as a Cameron antidote, ed balls (and others) come with the worry of yet more embarresment at PMQ.

    In the context of the westminster / labour party bubble it has to be dave M i think.

  • Comment number 2.

    watching the coalition talks is like watching how a weasel hypnotises a rabbit? the libdem might even believe they will get a referendum. just read lords hansard for how the monarchist establishment avoid such decisions that benefit the people.

    milliband a 'centrist leader'? he's to the right of likud. it'll be more war without end. more blind eye to 'strategic' partners?

    the israeli press have said a lib dem in the FO would be a 'real problem' for israel.

    given the 'interest' a foreign power has in the uk elections the coalition talks may not be about purely british interests? which other foreign state has such a stake in uk politics? and such influence to have a bearing on any possible outcome?

    ..In recent days Israeli newspapers have run stories warning about the potentially negative prospects for Israel of a British government that accords a prominent position to the Lib Dems. They regard Nick Clegg and his party as positively pro-Palestinian.

    ..the Lib Dems claim credit for opposing the 2003 invasion, which has aroused suspicion in Israel,...

    one report even mentions the lib dems as anti semitic?,7340,L-3886065,00.html

    so from their point of view it migth be better the talks with lib dems should fail and the uk have another election till its gets the 'correct' result?

  • Comment number 3.

    loved the film in your post by the way. The political /economic journalists equivalent of the Blair witch project.

    They did not seem too worried about the markets opening did they, they probably dont want to spoil the surprise 8:00am news conference they have been talking about today. A suitably dramatic start to fledgling coalition to be dont you think.

    Either that or they havent a clue what they are doing. to be fair they have probably made enough positive noises austerity wise and political will wise to avoid a rout on Monday morning, but they should not be taking any chances with it is all I am saying.

    I hope you were not expecting much sleep this week Paul.

  • Comment number 4.

    Balls as leader will put Labour in the wilderness for generations. like Gordon but minus the charm.

  • Comment number 5.

    1..Selling it to the parties is going to be an easy..

    not if you read the israeli press whose interests have an important say in what goes on in uk politics?

    lib dems in govt over their dead body seems to be the message? so their interests in uk politics are more likely to work for blocking any deal and forcing another election?

  • Comment number 6.

    I just the upshot of this is the Lib Dems replacing Labour as one of the two primary parties.

    Seeing Labour reduced to a third party status would be a most pleasing thing, and a suitable reward for their efforts to turn the UK into an authoritarian, bureaucratic hellhole.

  • Comment number 7.

    No.2 jaunty

    Crikey jauntycyclist, those Israeli hawks must really be worried at the prospect of A LIB DEM! in the Uk government.

    'Good heavans'...they must be thinking.

    'What ever will we have to deal with next'!

    ' A democrat reformist black president of the USA with the middle name Hussain or something' !!!

    .....'hang on a minute'

  • Comment number 8.


    Labour have been badly mauled (advisedly) by their 'choice' of leader. I would not be surprised to see a John Major equivalent installed.

    Good Ship Lollypop HAZEL?

  • Comment number 9.

    Hmmm. What's the true popularity of the parties? Nobody knows because of tactical voting and negative campaigning. Any MP who ran a campaign saying vote for me to keep party X out cannot claim a mandate for their policies.

    When I contemplate the clique who asset stripped and then sold the Labour party's principles to keep their snouts in the trough, I want to see the back of them all. Especially Mandelson. The Labour Party needs time in opposition if there is any chance (and I'm not sure that there is) of it exorcising the demons which have possessed it and then reclaiming its soul.

    Despite this, I did vote Labour to try to keep the Tory majority down, but I don't mind a castrated Conservative party leading a coalition government fot a couple of years. Uncle Vince should be able teach Osbo some real economics, to replace the brainwashing he had from his hedge fund chums.

    And as for constituutional reform - it's long overdue, but supporters might have to continue the battle on the streets.

  • Comment number 10.

    @5 "not if you read the israeli press whose interests have an important say in what goes on in uk politics?"

    Justify this statement please - You aren't the reincarnation of Jaded Jean are you?

    It's just the kind of thing that Harold Harmsworth used to say!


  • Comment number 11.

    "I have spoken to several Labour backbenchers and apparachicks tonight". What is an "apparachick" - is that like a transvestite?

    I think the word you are struggling for is "apparatchik".

    Well at least the BBC could get something out of Tory education policy, or perhaps allocate some funding to learning at least one language well.

  • Comment number 12.

    Jericoa, you say "Power is a rather compelling sugar coating to any bitter pill is it not"

    well it may be to the tories, although to the LibDems a fair chance for the future is far more important than a morsel of power now

  • Comment number 13.

    Ruth Sunderland Business Editor of the Observer yesterday made clear what is at stake yesterday. Being a young financial reporter on her first day she happened to have been in the City of London the day a run on sterling occurred for trying to stay in the EMU way back in 1992. Now she states hedgefunds are out to bankrupt a nation- Greece.

    The bailout package as announced by Euroland around $1trillion may appear a lot, but on election night £3trillion in gilts was wiped off their value according to a trader who told a friend of mine. The more Europe bets with non-existant money against traders they will lose the game. You cannot match bets which dont have to put money down up front. Futures trading is always win-win as they dont show the money when they open their casino computer screens. Even Soros stated as such according to Ruth Sunderland....

  • Comment number 14.

    @11 Pathetic!

    PM's blogs reveal him as both educated and erudite. Let the one who has never made a typing error cast the first stone.

  • Comment number 15.


    Actually it's two typos, or more likely two spelling errors, not to mention the utterly changed pronunciation. Ignorance of foreign languages I know is a Brit characteristic, but don't presume erudition over the rest of us.

  • Comment number 16.

    @15 Yawn - Even more pathetic: when you're in a hole stop digging! You nit-pick over a spurious linguistic point and make a personal attack upon PM whilst contributing nothing to the discussion.

    PS Regarding your own grammar: did you mean that we Brits are "ignorant of the foreign languages you know". For a flavour of what I might have wanted to say, check out Alec Flegon's "Beyond the Russian Dictionary". :-D

  • Comment number 17.


    And your contribution was? With a name like Sasha I'd expect you to understand the point, but then, you'd be a bloke if you were Russian and you'd get it anyway.

    I accept the point on my grammar - far too colloquial or indeed, hint, hint, colonial...

    I don't accept the point on PM tho'. It wasn't a personal attack and I'm not a highly paid (lol) BBC reporter.

    At risk of breaking the rules, but to illustrate a point. Nema veze - idem...(it doesn't matter, I'm leaving)

  • Comment number 18.

    Conservatives should walk away, and leave it to the others, May very unfriendly voter decisions will have to be taken in the coming months.
    Live to fight another day? Leave Labour to make the decisions that will leave them in the political wilderness for years, after all they caused most of the problems!


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