That Telegraph story: true or false (or somewhere inbetween)?

by Stephen Tall on May 19, 2008

At lunchtime, I posted my take on the Telegraph’s exclusive claiming the Lib Dems would be prepared to back – or, at any rate, not vote down – a minority Tory administration if David Cameron’s party is the biggest single group in a Hung Parliament.

Of the 40 comments so far posted in response, opinion seems divided between those, like me, who think this would be shrewd politics; and those who think it would be absolutely barking mad. I prefaced my LDV piece with a big caveat:

The first question we need to ask is, is the story true? I’ve not seen any furious rebuttals from the party yet, so we might reckon that there’s at least enough fact in it to be plausible.

Curiously, prominent Lib Dem blogger Paul Walter is reporting the following over at his Liberal Burblings:

A very reliable and informed source tells me that the parliament/Clegg/Tories Telegraph story referred to below was a planted piece of mischief making by the Tories rather than anything originating from Clegg & co. I note that the article contains no direct quotes and is mostly written on the basis of “The Daily Telegraph understands that…”.

All of which begs the question: what’s the truth? And how did this story get started? Perhaps it was simple “mischief making” by the Tories, yet the silence to date from the party – and they’re not all in Crewe and Nantwich today – suggests there’s more to this than simply the Torygraph living up to its nickname.

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Poltics Home in it’s ‘Sleeping with the enemy’ piece says;

“We called Nick Clegg’s office and received a vehement denial of the story in today’s Daily Telegraph that the Liberal Democrats would be willing to sustain a Conservative Government if the Tories turned out to be the largest party in a hung parliament.

by Darrell on May 19, 2008 at 9:40 pm. Reply #

Remember all the “vehment denials” from Paddy in the mid-late 90s though?

And all the ones that there weren’t movements afoot to depose Charles/Ming

by Hywel Morgan on May 19, 2008 at 10:32 pm. Reply #

Fair comment but therin lies an instructive example…Cameron doesnt seem so awfully keen on his ‘Progressive Alliance’ anymore…why?? Because the math is pointing to him not needing it…and why would he go out of his way to cause ructions within his own party when he doesnt need to??

by Darrell on May 19, 2008 at 10:36 pm. Reply #

Yawn…rilly rilly boring

by Jo on May 19, 2008 at 10:38 pm. Reply #

Clegg Kite IMO.

by Chris Paul on May 20, 2008 at 9:19 am. Reply #

If there is any truth in all this, Clegg should hang his head in shame. What is he doing talking this openly about cuddling up to the Conservatives when he should be focussing on making the Lib Dems relevant again?

by Letters From A Tory on May 20, 2008 at 10:52 am. Reply #

Letters, that is an illigitimate claim coming from you and anyway there aren’t any cuddly Conservatives.

by Oranjepan on May 20, 2008 at 11:08 am. Reply #

I suspect given the timing it’s an attempt by the Tory leadership to prop up the Labour vote in a certain Cheshire town..

The last thing they want is the Labour vote to collapse in C&N to us – and they think by playing the ‘Tory country cousins card’ some Labour voters will hold their noses and stick with their lot. A collapse of the Labour vote to the Lib Dems could see us coming through and pipping them at the post.

by Dan on May 20, 2008 at 11:12 am. Reply #


“If there is any truth in all this, …”

I see even tories have trouble believing the Telegraph this time.

With no direct quotes, this is just spin on a previously established position that applies to both other parties.

by Joe Otten on May 20, 2008 at 11:33 am. Reply #

So “Letters from a Tory” what would YOU say Clegg should do in a situation where no party has an overall majority, but the Conservatives have the largest numbers of seats? If allowing the Queen to appoint Cameron as PM and not immediately bringing down the government is “cuddling up to the Tories” what should Clegg do which you would not classify as “cuddling up”?

Isn’t the real problem this stupid language used by people like “Letters”?

by Matthew Huntbach on May 20, 2008 at 2:18 pm. Reply #

I’ve just come from Nick’s tax launch speech at Policy Exchange where he addressed a question about this with the entirely unambiguous response that there was no truth at all in the Telegraph story.

by Andy Mayer on May 20, 2008 at 2:46 pm. Reply #

…which begs the question: in that case, what would we do in the event of a hung parliament?

by James Graham on May 20, 2008 at 5:21 pm. Reply #

Sigh… if Nick’s being wholly truthful that the Telegraph story is entirely false it’ll be such a shame. I thought, at last, the party could agree a line – no coalition, equidistance, respect the wishes of the public – that would be generally popular and certainly understandable.

If we’re just back to the “maximum votes, maximum seats” line we can expect the “What would you do if…?” question to plague us for the next two years.

by Stephen Tall on May 20, 2008 at 5:52 pm. Reply #


by James Graham on May 20, 2008 at 5:54 pm. Reply #


I can see why you would say that but the way the article was framed I am glad it is being denied because it was not framed in an ‘equidistant’ manner at all…so, either a denial or a denial with clarification was called for…as it is a denial is better than saying it was true….

by Darrell on May 20, 2008 at 6:00 pm. Reply #

I agree with that, at least.

by James Graham on May 20, 2008 at 6:04 pm. Reply #

I dont think there is an awful lot of disagreement to be honest James. I think there is actually alot of commen ground around the kind of equidistance that Stephen spelt out in his article where the disagreement stems from is that this artcile was not the kind of thing that people want to see precisely because it is slanted too far one way.

My thing is that it would be wrong to specify either Labour or Conservatives before the election because it would only be after an election that we would be able to judge the two criteria i set out in the other thread. Make them come to us and do what we want not the other way around…go to them cap in hand and offer ‘supply and confidence’ without any kind of reward….

by Darrell on May 20, 2008 at 6:21 pm. Reply #

But the original article DIDN’T specify Labour or Conservatives before the election. It specified Conservative if they were the largest party, and leaves unsaid, but I think assumed, Labour if they were the largest party. Of course, it has been spun by those who have an interest in spinning it that way as “cuddling up to the Tories”, but what is the alternative? If our position was anything less favourable to the Conservatives it could, with justification, be spun as “cuddling up to Labour”. We are left with a legacy from the Ashdown era of a supposition that if it came to the crunch we would side with Labour. We need to get rid of this – and I write as someone who is naturally inclined to Labour rather than the Conservatives if I’m forced to choose between the two.

It seems to me that “allow the largest party to form a government” is the best line. If we said “we will engage in talks to see which party is more willing to make a deal with us”, we’ll be accused of unprincipled horse-trading.

by Matthew Huntbach on May 21, 2008 at 10:40 am. Reply #

How on earth is it unprincipled to say we will represent the people who voted for us by actually negotiating the best deal for the policies we want enacted??

by Darrell on May 21, 2008 at 10:43 am. Reply #

I didn’t say it was unprincipled, I said that’s the line that would be used against us by our opponents.

by Matthew Huntbach on May 21, 2008 at 11:25 am. Reply #

I thought the whole point of Nick Cleggs conference speech was that we would only go into coalition with either party based on proportional representation?

Is he going back on this? If so a lot of people, including myself will be very angry.

Siding with a Tory government would be electoral suicide without negotiating for PR first. Not that the Tories would ever concede that anyway. They are snakes in the grass and would simply do what Labour did to us in Scotland – blame any failures on us whilst taking the credit for the governments acheivements.

I hope this isn’t true and if it isn’t, why hasn’t there been a rebuttal from Nick Clegg?

by Andy on May 21, 2008 at 11:56 am. Reply #

Probably should have read the whole thread before posting… sounds like he has already rebutted it. Good.

by Andy on May 21, 2008 at 11:58 am. Reply #

Andy – Clegg never said any of that in his last conference speech. What he said that he wouldn’t join a Labour or a Tory government and wants a new system of politics. He didn’t say anything about the possible price of a coalition. That was what Ming was banging on about in his spring 2007 conference speech. Much good it did him.

by James Graham on May 21, 2008 at 12:26 pm. Reply #

I thought the whole point of Nick Cleggs conference speech was that we would only go into coalition with either party based on proportional representation?

Is he going back on this?

Er, not only why don’t you read the whole thread, but why don’t you read the original article? The main point about the original article was it suggested Clegg would NOT enter a coalition with the Conservatives, but rather would allow a Conservative minority government to be formed by not voting against it in a vote of confidence. Thereafter he would reserve the right for our Parliamentary party to veto any legislation that government proposed which our party considered unacceptable.

A coalition implies collective responsibility which in effect would silence us on public criticism of the Conservatives in return for greater behind closed doors influence. In the long run, our support for multi-party politics means we have to consider such arrangements. In the short run, whether it really was Clegg who made the proposals outlined in the Telegraph, they strike me as realistic in the current climate.

by Matthew Huntbach on May 21, 2008 at 1:21 pm. Reply #

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