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Lord Adonis surfs the latest wave of LibLabLove

By Peter Hoskin
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For any Kremlinologists among us, Lord Adonis’s new book and his interview with today’s Guardian are sure to be fruitful reads. Not only are they about the Kremlinology of days past: about how the absence of any relationship between Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown helped scupper a LibLab Coalition after the last election. But they are also about the Kremlinology of days to come: about how a LibLab Coalition might be born in 2015.

Among Lord Adonis’s main points is that Labour should, as the Guardian interview puts it, “prepare for coalition, even when [they] are fighting all out for a majority”. He reckons that the mistakes of the last election ought to be corrected, such that Ed Miliband reaches out to the Lib Dems now and dangles the possibility of major Cabinet positions in front of their rapacious eyes.

It’s a point that comes at a particularly, though sadly, apposite time. The aftermath of the Queen’s Speech suggests that the coalition between David Cameron and Nick Clegg is fraying along its political seams as well as its personal ones. From childcare ratios to EU referenda, this is one of the more tumultuous periods of this Government.  

And Ed Miliband is, to some extent, sweeping in as Lord Adonis recommends. The days when he described the Lib Dems as “a disgrace to the traditions of liberalism” – which I used to chronicle – are long since passed, replaced by text messages with Vince Cable and “more understanding and even respect” for Mr Clegg. And there are growing policy overlaps, too. Mr Miliband’s speech about Europe today can be seen in that context, as can his hints about universal benefits last week.

There remain several significant impediments to an unrestrained LibLab love-in, among them Mr Clegg himself. For all his recent wavering, the Lib Dem leader is still – as I’ve written plenty of times before, including here and here – a more natural bedfellow for the Tories than for Labour. Ed Miliband’s party is often ruled more by its heart than its head, and its heart will not be eager to share power with a man who helped the Conservatives into Government and who, with his tuition fees pledge, has become a magnet for left-wing discontent.

And then there’s the economy, which remains a fairly fixed point around which this current Coalition wobbles. Unless Messrs Miliband and Balls one day commit to a relatively sane programme of deficit reduction, there will always be that to divide them from the Lib Dems (although they will be heartened by some of Mr Cable’s words in that regard).

But those impediments can, and maybe will, be overcome by electoral realities. Only half-a-year ago, Lord Adonis poured hot, hot scorn on the possibility of a LibLab coalition, but now he’s saying one would be “massively preferable” to a Labour minority government. The Tory leadership would do well not to travel in an opposite direction when it comes to the possibility of another LibCon coalition. It could turn out to be the only chance they’ve got.