LibLink: Charles Kennedy – Why I couldn’t support Clegg’s deal with the Tories

by Stephen Tall on May 16, 2010

In The Observer today, former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy has highlighted his unease at the Lib-Con coalition government, and explains he would have preferred to explore the possibilities of an alliance with Labour:

… [last week’s events] drive a strategic coach and horses through the long-nurtured “realignment of the centre-left” to which leaders in the Liberal tradition, this one included, have all subscribed since the Jo Grimond era. It is hardly surprising that, for some of us at least, our political compass currently feels confused. And that really encapsulates the reasons why I felt personally unable to vote for this outcome when it was presented to Liberal Democrat parliamentarians.

Having felt unable to support the Lib-Con agreement, Charles acknowledges the unlikelihood of a Lib-Lab pact:

Like many others I was keen to explore the possibilities of a so-called “progressive coalition”, despite all the obvious difficulties and drawbacks. It remains a matter of profound disappointment that there was insufficient reciprocal will within the Labour party – and they should not be allowed to pose in opposition purity as a result.

His preferred option, it seems, was to allow the Tories to form a minority government:

I felt that such a course of action would have enabled us to maintain a momentum in opposition, while Labour turned inwards. But the understandable anxiety among colleagues about an early second election scuppered that option. To which might be added the significant reality of devolved general elections in just less than a year’s time in both Scotland and Wales.

He closes by looking ahead, with the gentlest of warning shots across the bows of those entering government:

So now we must look to a centre-right government to deliver the appetising menu of liberal measures contained within the coalition agreement. In so doing the wider, non-governmental sections of the party – inside and outside parliament – will have a continuing family responsibility to help articulate values and a vision that underpins what our colleagues are seeking to enact in ministerial office. We must not forget that the real political personality of this administration, the one that will evolve steadily in people’s minds over months and years, will be driven as much by reflex reactions to unexpected events as by carefully negotiated, pre-planned, legislative intent. So there will have to remain room for everyone.

You can read Charles’s article in full here.

Interestingly, Evan Harris – widely regarded as a champion of the social liberal wing of the Lib Dems – was quick to make clear his disagreement with Charles:

I’ve been aligned with Charles Kennedy on the most progressive side of the Liberal Democrats as have many, many others of the 50 MPs who voted for this agreement. So I think Charles is out of step, not only with the party on this, but with that wing of the party that is the most progressive. … The only options were allowing a minority, unfettered, unmitigated, undiluted Conservative administration that would then cut and run within a year when it thought it could get the extra couple of per cent that under our electoral system it feels it needs to win an overall majority, or to have this stable coalition.”