Saturday, 15 May 2010

Ashdown asked for Miliband to rescue Lib-Lab pact

I spoke to Paddy Ashdown yesterday for our first Saturday Interview after the election.
As always he was on great form, quoting the politician's prayer - Lord make my words sweet and reasonable for I may have to eat them - he knows he has said one or two things about the Tories.
But he revealed a lot about his personal role in trying to rescue a deal with Labour, including making an indirect plea to one D Miliband.
Here is an extract:
It is clear Lord Ashdown would have preferred to have seen the Lib Dems enter government with the Labour party – something he came tantalisingly close to doing with Tony Blair in 1997, a deal scuppered by senior Labour ministers.
For three decades the Lib Dems have aimed to be a party of government in their own right by trying to “create a realignment of the left around broadly moderate and liberal values”.
That was the vision of former leaders including former one-time North Devon MP Jeremy Thorpe, David Steel and Jo Grimond.
He insists it was “very important” that the Lib Dem negotiators pursued talks with Labour, even in “pretty fragile circumstances”.
“My job in this process was to keep the Labour option alive because if we hadn’t we would have had no bargaining power with the Tories. So of course many of us, the whole party, would have preferred to do that.”
He insists Mr Clegg simply “kept his promise” that whichever party had the most votes and seats had the right to try to form the government first.
“Did I think it would end up precisely as it ended? No. Did I think there would be a serious attempt to do this? Yes I did.”
Two factors caused the Labour talks to fail. “The first was the old Neanderthals, the old knuckle draggers, stopping it happening for tribal reasons.”
In particular he blames former Deputy PM John Prescott, outgoing justice secretary Jack Straw, and former home secretaries David Blunkett and John Reid. “These were the old tribalists who stopped things happening in ‘97.”
He admits that Mr Brown was also a key roadblock to doing a deal in 1997. The outgoing Labour leader has “many, many personal gifts – one of them is not the personal gift required to run the country”.
But he is also critical of the would-be future Labour leaders who failed to see the potential of doing a deal with the Lib Dems this week.
“I think there was a failure of action by those who could have staked out very clearly this is where they wanted to go.
“By this I mean David Miliband. There was a point, and I will say to you that, not directly but indirectly, I know that this point was made to him: that he ought to come out clearly and say if he was leader of the Labour party he would back this.
“But I fear greatly that he decided that for reasons of a leadership election, he wouldn’t. I think that’s true of others too.”
UPDATE: The Independent on Sunday has picked up the story today. However Jane Merrick reports that:
The accusation that Mr Miliband, the frontrunner in the race to succeed Gordon Brown, could have denied the Conservatives power was rejected by sources close to the former foreign secretary last night.


  1. Obviously, if talking with Labour was 'because if we hadn’t we would have had no bargaining power with the Tories'- and this is what people thought was the reason for the apparent 'two-facedness' of the LibDems, then the talks were bound to fail. The so called neanderthals and everyone else knew this. Ashdown is fighting old battles, or using them to settle (or at least explain both old scores) and his failure as leader.

  2. Typical - hour or so after my comment and nothing visible on the blog. WHy not trust your posters like the Guardian? Censorship. Taste of things to come, eh? Under the Condem 55% dictatorship.I only use such inflamatory language because I know the only people to read this wil be the web team, whoever they are?