Would Brown's head be the price of a Lab-Lib pact?

Speculation grows as poll shows Lib Dem supporters favour Brown over Cameron.

Nick Clegg may be determined to remain equidistant between Labour and the Conservatives but his party's voters aren't. The latest Independent/ComRes poll shows that while 46 per cent of Lib Dem supporters would be happy with a deal that allows Gordon Brown to stay on as prime minister in a hung parliament, only 31 per cent would be happy if David Cameron became prime minister in these circumstances.

It proves that despite Clegg's line that both the main parties are as bad as each other, Lib Dem voters continue to recognise Labour as a more progressive force than the Conservatives.

It also suggests that any tactical votes from Lib Dems are still more likely to go to Labour than the Tories. Recent research by PoliticsHome found that, contrary to expectations, tactical voting could rise at the election.

But the main stumbling block to a Lab-Lib coalition remains the fact that Clegg's hostility towards Labour isn't purely tactical: he can't stand Gordon Brown.

The possibility that the Lib Dems will demand Brown's head as the price of any pact has been raised before and in today's Times, the well-sourced Rachel Sylvester suggests that Labour ministers are prepared to grant it.

She writes:

With Cabinet ministers openly discussing the prospect of coalition, the question of the Labour leadership is back on the agenda. David Miliband is seen as the candidate most likely to appeal to Mr Clegg, although some point out that Alan Johnson has long supported the Lib Dems' favourite policy of PR. The suggestion is that the party's elder statesmen -- Lord Mandelson, Jack Straw or Alistair Darling -- could ask Mr Brown to stand aside to give Labour a chance of retaining power. It's hard to see him going easily -- but it is being discussed.

Given that Labour is famously sentimental towards its leaders (one of the reasons Brown survived all three coup attempts) and that to deny the Tories a majority would be a remarkable personal victory for him, Brown will be hard to shift.

But we can expect this question to become ever more prominent if support for the Lib Dems remains at anything like its present level.

Update: Sunny Hundal says that Labour should prepare to ditch Brown now.

 

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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What Jeremy Corbyn gets right about the single market

Technically, you can be outside the EU but inside the single market. Philosophically, you're still in the EU. 

I’ve been trying to work out what bothers me about the response to Jeremy Corbyn’s interview on the Andrew Marr programme.

What bothers me about Corbyn’s interview is obvious: the use of the phrase “wholesale importation” to describe people coming from Eastern Europe to the United Kingdom makes them sound like boxes of sugar rather than people. Adding to that, by suggesting that this “importation” had “destroy[ed] conditions”, rather than laying the blame on Britain’s under-enforced and under-regulated labour market, his words were more appropriate to a politician who believes that immigrants are objects to be scapegoated, not people to be served. (Though perhaps that is appropriate for the leader of the Labour Party if recent history is any guide.)

But I’m bothered, too, by the reaction to another part of his interview, in which the Labour leader said that Britain must leave the single market as it leaves the European Union. The response to this, which is technically correct, has been to attack Corbyn as Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are members of the single market but not the European Union.

In my view, leaving the single market will make Britain poorer in the short and long term, will immediately render much of Labour’s 2017 manifesto moot and will, in the long run, be a far bigger victory for right-wing politics than any mere election. Corbyn’s view, that the benefits of freeing a British government from the rules of the single market will outweigh the costs, doesn’t seem very likely to me. So why do I feel so uneasy about the claim that you can be a member of the single market and not the European Union?

I think it’s because the difficult truth is that these countries are, de facto, in the European Union in any meaningful sense. By any estimation, the three pillars of Britain’s “Out” vote were, firstly, control over Britain’s borders, aka the end of the free movement of people, secondly, more money for the public realm aka £350m a week for the NHS, and thirdly control over Britain’s own laws. It’s hard to see how, if the United Kingdom continues to be subject to the free movement of people, continues to pay large sums towards the European Union, and continues to have its laws set elsewhere, we have “honoured the referendum result”.

None of which changes my view that leaving the single market would be a catastrophe for the United Kingdom. But retaining Britain’s single market membership starts with making the argument for single market membership, not hiding behind rhetorical tricks about whether or not single market membership was on the ballot last June, when it quite clearly was. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.