Senior politicians throughout Britain went beyond briefing yesterday and this morning. At least half a dozen Cabinet members and former leaders variously stiffened the resolve and overruled the suggestions of Cameron, Clegg and Brown.
First out of the starting blocks was Alan Johnson, announcing yesterday morning that he did “not share the fears about PR” held by “some of my colleagues”. This was thinly veiled code for ‘Don’t worry about Gordon, you can negotiate with me and my mates’. It also came directly after Andrew Marr had got Clegg to say that “no Prime Minister could come last in the popular vote and remain in Office”.
This isn’t true actually, but even so Nick still hedged on the issue of PR. Knowing that his equivocation is infuriating the rank and file, former LibDem leader Charles Kennedy went on Radio 4 today and asserted that “PR is an absolute bottom-line for us in any negotiations”, adding that “it always has been” – a claim which is rather difficult to stand up based on the current Manifesto. This was a real Liberal ensuring that no Jimmy-come-latelies welch on the PR promise.
And as David Cameron made pacifying noises about voting reform referendums, Iain Duncan-Smith immediately removed any remaining wriggling-room from the Leader’s bed by stating categorically “acceptance of PR would not be an acceptable outcome of negotiations with the Liberal Democrats”.
The emergence of renegades to shatter Party discipline is perhaps the most fascinating and significant development of the Election so far. There seem to be a number of factors in play.
One is the sort of revolt by medium-heavyweight MPs that has been on the cards for some time. Many members have had enough of controlling leaderships, empty spin and ditched principles. In this camp are Kennedy, Duncan-Smith, David Davies, Ed Balls, former MP James Purnell, and Chris Huhne.
But most of it is a scramble for power among the two biggest Parties, as it begins to look increasingly like their leaders will be (or be seen as) losers. While Cameron has always had his Right wing with which to contend, he will probably get the biggest popular vote. Everyone in the Labour Party (including Mandy, but excluding Ed Balls and Charlie Whelan) now wants to dump Gordon at the first opportunity. This, the Slog understands, is the Party where the anarchy will be most obvious after May 6th.
One Libdem source this morning (back on speaking terms at last) suggested to us that Clegg is ‘winding Labour up’ now. Privately, Clegg shares the view held by many in Westminster that Gordon Brown is a spineless and possibly pathological liar. But having seen Labour as the easiest Coalition Party with which to work (and keep his activists under control) its decline in the polls appears to have convinced the LibDem leader that he can’t prop them up and remain credible. Our LibDem mole went on to observe that Slick Nick’s strategy now is to be the catalyst for Labour’s self-destruction – and then step in to take its place as the progressive party going forward.
Meanwhile,a new survey by the British Chambers of Commerce suggests that 65% of UK companies are either “concerned” or “very concerned” about a hung Parliament.The problem now – see Slog post of earlier – is not so much corporate anxieties about a hung Parliament as credit agency/Sovereign lender fears of legislative anarchy.