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This morning, The Guardian reveals that Mr Brown and Sir Menzies have been having talks about Lib Dems potentially featuring in Mr Brown’s cabinet, when he announces it next Wednesday. It’s an interesting plan. It would, of course, be fantastic to see two parties working together despite their differences, for the good of the country. It would be a laudable example of rising above party politics. But I can’t see it happening, because I can’t see the advantage for the Lib Dems.
It’s clear what’s in it for Labour: A virtually guaranteed win at the next election, an appearance of true cross-party working, and some very capable ministers.
But what’s in it for the Lib Dems? They lose the power to properly attack the government, they will inevitably be blamed for blunders while Labour takes the credit for successes, and it damages any perception anyone might have had of them as a potential government in their own right. They lose the advantages of opposition, without really gaining any real influence. They would also lose a certain degree of advantage when it comes to negotiations for a coalition government following the next election, should one be necessary.
Media speculation that this might happen, however, is very clearly beneficial to both parties. It paints Mr Brown as someone willing to break with tradition and party politics in order to find the right people for the right jobs, and it paints the Lib Dems as a party taken seriously enough for it’s shadow ministers to be considered for the top jobs.
If nothing comes of the speculation, really no political damage is done to Mr Brown, but it allows the Lib Dems to harp on about turning down potential power in favour of standing up for their principles – or else, they could both deny that the talks ever took place, which would be even less damaging to Mr Brown, and of no harm or benefit to Sir Menzies – so they’d both have gained a free bit positive media coverage.
So I reckon the mutually beneficial media speculation is as far as this will go. Sir Menzies isn’t a fool, and I can’t see him agreeing to something that would move his party backwards. But he and Mr Brown are good friends, and there’s every reason to think that they might have put their heads together and hatched this plan which gives them both a bit of good PR – great for Mr Brown as he’s entering the job, and great for Sir Menzies to help quieten the mutterings about him in his own party.
I don’t see a Lib Dem in next week’s cabinet. But I’d be delighted to be proved wrong.