by Stephen Tall on June 20, 2007
That’s the startling story in today’s Guardian, which reports:
Gordon Brown and Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat leader, have held private discussions in recent days about a plan for one or two senior Lib Dems to join Mr Brown’s first cabinet, the Guardian has been told by a well-placed source. It is being emphasised that the discussions have not been about a coalition and may not have been conclusive.
The comments of the quoted party spokesmen do not refute the story, which by implication suggests there’s something to it:
One of Sir Menzies’s closest aides, Lord Kirkwood, issued a qualified denial last night but declined to deny the story of recent discussions. He said: “We are getting this sort of speculation all the time from people who want to write stories about cooperation [between the parties] at levels which are in their imagination.
“But they [Mr Brown and Sir Menzies] talk all the time, they talk about Fife and other things. If you start getting into particular meetings it’s impossible. This suggestion is not known to me and not admitted. Some of these players do have to trust each other in relationships one-to-one.”
A spokesman for Sir Menzies said: “We are not commenting on this tittle-tattle or any other story based on rumour and speculation, now or in the future. We are an independent party which firmly disagrees with Labour and Gordon Brown on the issue of Iraq, civil liberties, including ID cards and 90-day detention, nuclear power and council tax to name but a few.”
What do LDV readers think of this development? Three questions occur:
1. Is it tenable for Lib Dems to serve in a Labour cabinet, but for the party to maintain it’s not in coalition with Labour?
2. Who would serve, and in what capacity? Nick Clegg at the Home Office? Vince Cable at a Treasury spin-off department?
3. What Lib Dem policies is it believed one or two Lib Dems serving in a Brown cabinet could have implemented?
For me the answers to questions 1 and 3 are “no” and “nothing” respectively (which makes question 2 rather redundant).
As a party which believes in proportional representation, and the breaking down of petty tribalism in favour of mature cross-party working, we will at some time have to think about what this might mean in reality – which will often be uncomfortable. However, we don’t have PR yet, and careless coalition whispers without it being in place strike me as foolhardy.
For years, the Lib Dems operated a firm policy of ‘equidistance’ between Labour and the Conservatives, a concept which was, perhaps understandably, dropped by Paddy Ashdown during the derided fag-end of the last Tory Government.
But tactically, strategically, and in principle equidistance is the policy which best fits a spiky, independent, liberal democratic party.