Earlier today I revisited Nick Clegg’s “disdain” for the Conservatives during an interview with me last year in which he refused, however, to rule out a coalition with the Tories. Further to that, and in this time of uncertaintly, in which perhaps even Clegg does not know what is going to happen, it is worth thinking about what the highly popular former leader of the Liberal Democrats Charles Kennedy might be thinking right now.
Surely Kennedy, a former Social Democratic Party man with close ties to the Labour Party and distinctly leftist instincts, would be in favour of a deal with Gordon Brown, no?
Well, not necessarily. All Lib Dems are realists now and want maximum credibility as well as influence for their party. I have not spoken to Kennedy about the present situation. However, sources close to him indicate that although he is not arguing for a definite deal with Labour, he would not be happy unless all the options — including the “progressive alliance” one — were fully explored, and the forces of conservatism led by Rupert Murdoch resisted.
All we can do to help us guess at his views is again to look back, as we did with Clegg, at what he has said before — this time at Kennedy’s extremely dignified speech on his resignation, which after all came about partly as a result of the belief in Westminster that David Cameron was the new dynamic force in British politics:
My sincere parting advice as leader to the party is to keep that debate within the parameters of these principles — and not to get unduly distracted by the machinations in other parties or what the vagaries of the British voting system may offer up at a future general election. That route will blur our identity and turn away the very voters who are still looking to us — rightly so — as their best hope for the future.
It is to that future which I will continue to work with enthusiasm. First, for the people of the Ross, Skye and Lochaber constituency — whom I am privileged to serve. And also for the continuing progress and success of our Liberal Democrat values — values which, when best expressed, give voice to the many who might otherwise be insufficiently heard.
A new leader inherits a party with the largest House of Commons representation in the Liberal tradition in over 80 years. We secured a million more votes in our support at the last general election compared with the one before. We are established as serious players in the changing reality which is three-party politics across Britain. I believe that to be a good inheritance and a great opportunity. One in which I look forward to continuing to play my part. Thank you.
Incidentally, it is worth noting that, although only current members of the Lib Dem front bench are being touted as cabinet ministers in a full-blooded coalition, neither Paddy Ashdown nor Kennedy should be ruled out.