Monday, 10 May 2010

Lib Dems struggle with their soul this morning

Westminster is cold and lively today in the expectation that there will be a deal between David Cameron and Nick Clegg.

The voodoo incantation of the right wing commentators is that a deal is but a formality, but some of them have invested so heavily in Cameron that they can't consider the thought of him failing now, so read them with caution.

There is no inevitability about anything happening today but there does appear to be a certain momentum. All the vocabulary coming from either side - stability, economic certainty - point towards some kind of agreement based around an economic agenda.

But if there is no PR deal that has the potential to freeze the hearts of Lib Dem MPs and activists, who have power of veto over Nick Clegg.

It might be Nick Clegg's instinct to go in with Cameron, and in many ways that is the easiest choice too. But are other Lib Dems willing to exchange voting reform for a "pupil premium" or a few cabinet seats?

In Scotland, for example, Cameron would be delighted to have a Lib Dem Scottish Secretary (g'wan yourself, Danny) and eleven bulletproof vests as public sector budgets are slashed. But do the likes of Kennedy, Carmichael and Moore want to spend their lives as sandbagging for the Tory garrison in the north?

Anyone who takes on the role of Cameron's Highlanders will reap an anti-Tory whirlwind in next year's Scottish elections.

The reason people like Danny Alexander, Jo Swinson, and Alan Reid came into politics is to reform politics. Cut a Lib Dem and they bleed proportional representation. That's why there still has to be a glimmer of light, albeit a diminishing one, that their hearts and their obstinate hatred of the Tories will drive the into Labour's half-clasped arms.

Oh, Clegg has just come out saying he hopes talks will be concluded sooner rather than later.

But everyone might be underestimating just how wily and clever Lib Dem negotiators are. They can quite legitimately exhaust talks with the Tories, or even put them on hold after they've reached a certain stage, to see what Labour can offer although that would have some parts of the media in apoplectic fits.

Last week Labour appealed to the Lib Dems to vote with their heads not their hearts, now Brown hopes that their Liberal instincts will take over. The big Brown bear is in his cave in Downing Street with a pot of golden honey, Lib Dem colours, marked voting reform.

It's doubtful that he can tempt Nick Clegg to come his way, there are no signs of serious negotiations. It would take some courage to go into a deal with the Brown bear, the stench of political death clings to him, the bones of allies and foes who've tried to deal with him litter his cave. Good grief he chews up Rochdale pensioners as a morning snack, what would he do to the Lib Dems?

But if Clegg wrestles with him he might, just might, imbue the Labour party with the courage to tackle Brown themselves. Brown's downfall, in or out of a deal, is regared as an inevitability but it might be as messy and unsightly as watching the Lib Dems struggle to sell their PR souls in exchange for power with Cameron.

The groundwork for the glittering prize, PR reform, is impossible to achieve in less than two years according to the naysayers. But then, has anyone seen an easy road to parliamentary reform?

A Lib Dem deal with the Tories is odds on and one with Labour is almost a mathematical and political impossibility. But there will be Lib Dems this morning, some of them the Scottish MPs who'll be in the frontline of trench warfare, who will be drawn to Labour, It would be a difficult deal, it would cause schism and heartache, but it might, just might, change politics for ever. After all, if the Lib Dems are not for voting reform, what are they for at all?

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