Telegraph claims Clegg has ruled out a coalition with Labour. I claim the Telegraph is talking nonsense on stilts.

by Stephen Tall on September 28, 2013

Last week’s serialisation sensation was all about Damien McBride. This week’s is Matthew d’Ancona’s inside scoop on the Coalition, In It Together.

The Telegraph, doubtless keen to get its money’s worth, has hyped-up the revelations, splashing with the headline, ‘Cameron opens talks with Clegg on second Coalition’. Here’s the key passage, which reads unconvincingly to me, as I’ll explain below:

D’Ancona writes: “From time to time, he [Mr Cameron] would raise the question of a second coalition with Clegg. ‘If we did it again,’ he mused to the Deputy Prime Minister, ‘I’d have to seek collective permission.’?” It is also claimed that Mr Clegg has privately confided to the Prime Minister that he could not form a coalition with Ed Miliband. In public, the Liberal Democrats have said they will form a coalition, should it become necessary, with whichever party wins the most public support. …

The book makes clear that any chance of a tie-up between Labour and the Lib Dems looks unlikely as long as Ed Miliband remains Labour leader. It recounts how, during a meeting of the three party leaders to discuss press regulation when Mr Miliband had “moralised a little too much”, Mr Clegg turned to Mr Cameron, saying: “Now you can see why I don’t want to go into coalition with him.”

First, I don’t find it at all surprising if “from time to time” either David Cameron or Nick Clegg reflects on what they’d have to do differently if a second coalition were to happen. I think I’d probably find it odder if they didn’t.

But I find it hard to take at all seriously the claim that Nick Clegg has “privately dismissed” the idea the Lib Dems could form a coalition with Labour. That’s not to say I don’t think Nick would probably prefer to work again with David Cameron: I suspect he would, if only because he reckons the two of them have a working understanding of how to make coalition work now, and it would be tough to start from scratch with Ed Miliband. But I don’t buy for a moment that Nick would say this to Cameron as it would severely undermine the Lib Dems’ negotiating position in 2015 if a deal with either Labour or the Tories is potentially achievable.

In any case, as my (simplified) flow-chart of the 5 key questions that will determine whether there’s another coalition post-2015 highlights, the choice is very unlikely to be Nick Clegg’s to exercise: the electorate and the party will all have a greater say than the Lib Dem leader in what will happen.

I’ve a lot of respect for Matt d’Ancona, who I think is one of the few fair-minded and insightful Conservative commentators. But his claim just does not ring at all true to me.

Here, for the record, is the official party take…

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.