In 2010, as Gordon Brown was desperately trying to strike a deal with the Lib Dems, Peter Mandelson warned him: “you must stop calling them the Liberals”. The third party, a merger of the Liberal Party and the SDP, doesn’t take kindly to being referred to by the name of its former incarnation. That Brown didn’t even have the courtesy to get their name right was one reason why many Lib Dems concluded that they couldn’t do business with him.
But today, in defiance of this precedent, Ed Miliband spoke of how Labour needed to rescue the NHS “from these Tories. And the Liberals too.” For a politician more pluralist than many in his party, it was an oddly tribal note. With a hung parliament the most likely outcome of the next election, Miliband, like Brown, can’t afford to be so careless. If both Labour and the Tories win enough seats to form majority governments with Lib Dem support, he will need to do everything he can to persuade Nick Clegg, against his ideological instincts, to side with him.
But with this in mind, it was striking that the line quoted above was the only reference to the party in the speech. Ahead of a possible coalition in 2015, has Miliband decided that it’s best not “to diss” the Lib Dems?