by Gary J
Fri Jun 22nd, 2007 at 08:56:57 AM EST
Gordon Brown has demonstrated either low political cunning or a genuine commitment to a new politics (the jury is out on which) by offering places in his government to certain Liberal Democrat peers, most notably Paddy Ashdown.
The story seems to be that last Monday Brown had a meeting with LibDem leader Ming Campbell. During this meeting the suggestion was made that such LibDem luminaries as Paddy Ashdown and Rabbi Julia Neuberger might be given jobs as Ministers of State (second rank ministers) outside the cabinet. Ming said he would think about this (in British terms) remarkable proposition.
A meeting of LibDem MPs on Wednesday decisively rejected the offer.
Either before or after that decision was taken (the chronology seems to be a bit confused) Gordon Brown met Paddy Ashdown and offered him the cabinet post of Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Ashdown grew up in Northern Ireland (thus the nickname of Paddy) and has some experience of being a Viceroy so he would be a good fit for the post. However Ashdown rejected this offer made behind Ming Campbell's back.
I suspect Brown was thinking, as a fan of US politics, that it might be nice to have a powerless opposition figure or two in his cabinet just as US President's tend to do.
The low cunning model however suggests the conversations were a multi sided trap.
If the LibDems let their people join the government, when Brown has a majority independent of the LibDems and has made no commitments on policy, then the LibDems would find it very difficult to credibly present themselves as an independent party. It would then be extremely difficult to oppose Labour on Iraq and civil liberties, as well as being electoral suicide.
If some LibDems joined against the wishes of the party leader then this would disrupt an opposition party; which would then have electoral problems.
If, as has happened, the LibDems all reject the approaches then the Tories still have an opportunity (which they are taking) to say that a vote for Campbell is a vote for a Brown led coalition (because Campbell did not reject the plan out of hand).
Michael Portillo also considers that there is a subtler trap for the Conservatives who have to fear a coalition after the next election, if there is a hung Parliament.
The chattering classes (ignoring the policy differences between the parties) seem to be simultaneously damning the LibDems for not being serious politicians by not seeking office at all costs and for being only interested in office (because they talked about the possibility).
BBC take on the story