So, you’re Gordon Brown, and you’re putting together your first government after winning a tightly fought leadership campaign (OK, so I made the last bit up). You have a pretty decent majority, and plenty of experience to choose from. So what do you do? You pick up the phone to the Lib Dem leader and say ‘can I borrow a couple of your best people?’
Do what? Why on earth would you do that? Well, there are several plausible reasons, but all of them should leave Lib Dems scurrying away post haste:
- Gordon Brown has so many enemies in his own party, that he struggles to find enough good people that will work with him.
- Gordon Brown feels such enmity towards Blairites that he won’t hire anyone remotely tainted by Blair.
- Gordon Brown looks at the lack of talent in his ranks and realises he doesn’t have anyone of the stature of men like Paddy Ashdown, whose shoelaces most New Labour figures are not fit to tie.
But I reckon the real reason is more like this:
Gordon Brown is staring into the abyss. At the next general election, it is going to take a miracle to win another outright majority. The Lib Dems have a real chance of holding a pivotal role – one in which they could hold the balance of power. So, he calculates, now is the time to get into bed with those annoying Lib Dems. He calculates (because GB is always calculating) that if he’s in bed with us, we would be much more likely to join him in a coalition – leaving the Tories out in the cold. He’s also probably calculated that if the Lib Dems appear to be ‘in bed with Labour’, it will be much more easy to portray the choice at the next general election as a two way rather than a three way one – thus depressing our vote. Finally, Gordon’s calculator will have told him that a Lib-Lab alliance at this time would split the Lib Dems, causing us internal upheaval and quite probably resignations.
Not for the first time, Gordon Brown has got his sums wrong. For his plan to work, we would have to be more hungry for power than we are wedded to our principles. This is a grave miscalculation. If being elected is more important than your principles, you certainly don’t join the Liberal Democrats. There is still a lingering public perception that we are some kind of ‘Labour Lite’, and yet our fundamental principles are so very different. We have to communicate those differences to the public at large.
To get into bed with New Labour just as the New Labour project is sinking would be a disaster.