17 April 2010

AJ4PM: Keep an eye on our man

imageThere was a ‘little local difficulty’ between senior members of the AJ4PM committee a few weeks back that was amicably resolved.  The conclusion reached was that Brown would survive and do a deal with Nick Clegg, if fate happens and we finish up with a hung parliament.  Committee meetings were then suspended for the duration of the campaign.

However, time has moved on and the odd volcano does erupt from time to time to cause all sorts of unexpected problems.  One that did explode this week was Nick Clegg and now theories galore are popping up on what will happen on 6 May.  The dust does need to settle but the dynamics of the campaign have changed.  It could be, if Clegg doesn't slip up in the days ahead, that he will be in a much stronger position on 7 May than was earlier thought.  The “clunking fist” may not be the only one banging the table in any post-election chats.

Alan Johnson, who wouldn't have allowed Clegg to become nation’s sweetheart in such a dramatic way on Thursday evening, has been fairly prominent in the media since the debate.  Today he has given interview to The Times, which contains some wonderful nuggets.

On Clegg:

He’s good at presentational things, he was very slick and relaxed. It’s easy for him. The last Liberal Prime Minister can only be contacted by spiritual medium. He hasn’t got any record to defend.

Then, on Labour and Lib Dems “shared interests”

We have a lot in common — electoral reform, for example. We agree that we shouldn’t be playing games around national insurance and that we shouldn’t kowtow to companies like Marks & Spencer that have just paid Stuart Rose’s successor £15 million as a golden handshake.

They also agree with us that this nonsense about a tax break for married couples is judgmental and unfair. I think it would be very difficult to imagine the Lib Dems being able to form a government with the Tories.

On a coalition with the Lib Dems:

I am a supporter of PR and so I believe we have to kill this argument that coalition government is dangerous. Leaving this election aside, I don’t have a horror of coalitions. You see what happens in many other progressive countries.

Now we move to the important stuff.  “Maybe”, The Times asks, "it would be easier for Mr Clegg to do a deal with a different Labour leader. Some Lib Dem grandees say they would prefer David Miliband or Mr Johnson himself”

I don’t know if that’s true. They’re not picking our leader. If we get to that position [of a hung Parliament] Gordon would have done a huge amount to bring us back from the brink. We were dead and buried before Christmas. Compared to where we were, a hung Parliament would be seen as huge transformation. Gordon could stay as long as he wanted.

The emeritus chairman of the AJ4PM committee may disagree, but his words are significant: “Gordon would have done” and “Gordon could stay”.  Johnson didn't use the word “will”.

Our man is playing footsie with the Lib Dems for obvious reasons, but he is also keeping his toes in the water in case his skills in negotiation and communication are needed once the polls close.  Also, AJ and Miliband are appearing to be performing a double-act at present.

Finally, we come to the role of Peter Mandelson.  Although there was a little difficulty with Brown before the election, he will be in a pivotal position if he pulls off a miracle on 6 May.  The Blairite project was his baby and he will do all it takes to stop Ed Balls succeeding Brown.

For that reason, together with a possible hung parliament with Labour holding the largest number of seats, Johnson, Miliband, Mandelson and Brown himself will be the key figures that decide the future direction of the party after polling day, whatever the result.

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