Brown & Out (If The Sun Can Do It, I Can)

It's hard for any blogger to keep up with political developments at the moment as the deals that will create our next government are thrashed out in what they used to call "smoke-filled rooms" in the capital, especially if, like me, you have a hundred things to do as well as your blogging and no immediate access to a laptop or a phone with an internet connection (I know, I live like a savage).

But it was enthralling listening to Gordon Brown's statement yesterday, in which he offered the Lib Dems and the country the ultimate prize of his own resignation, and William Hague's subsequent counter-punch offering the Lib Dems a referendum on reform of the voting system. One political commentator likened it to a showdown in a spaghetti western (showing his age somewhat, as I was by understanding him); but I thought it had more of the feel of the desperate competition for Rene Zellwegger's love in "Bridget Jones' Diary", although I couldn't quite work out who was the Hugh Grant character and who might be Colin Firth.

Clegg played an extremely clever, but rather risky, game in opening up negotiations with the Labour Party as well as the Conservatives. It seems to have pushed the Tories into offering the referendum -- in which the Lib Dems are by no means certain to get the outcome they desire -- but some commentators have characterised the act as dishonourable and self-serving, as well as sneaky (since he didn't tell David Cameron what he planned to do).

Many supporters of Clegg are angry with him for opening negotiations with the Conservative Party, of course, since the dislike of the Tories remains deeply rooted in the minds of a large proportion of the population. But would he form an alliance, others ask, with Labour just to get electoral reform -- or for the possibility of electoral reform -- when even with their forces joined Labour and the Lib Dems would rely on the support of smaller parties (who would exact their own payment for that support, no doubt) or defectors from the Tory benches to pass any legislation at all? Is that how much he wants the stable government he and the other leaders spoke about interminably during the campaign?

This is Clegg's dilemma, and whichever way he leaps he will be harshly judged, as I have said on this blog before.

My own feeling is that Labour should let the Tories and the Lib Dems have their alliance without interfering and get on with the more important business of choosing a new leader and a new direction. Let the country see whether David Cameron can handle the economy as well as he thinks he can when it's in as big a mess as it has been in the lifetime of most observers (and no, that isn't Gordon Brown's fault). Then once Cameron has slashed public services and taxed the poor mercilessly, and the Tory Lib Dem alliance has collapsed, a new New Labour can come in and pick up the pieces.

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