Thursday, January 01, 2009

 

Lib Dem Fillip from Mandarin Consultation

The fact that the government has allowed the Lib Dems to consult with senior civil servants in case they hold the balance of power after the next election, must be reassuring to Nick Clegg. Elected as the antidote to Ming Campbell's failure to boost his party's poll ratings, Clegg has not really excelled, though a shift to the higher rather than lower teens in recent weeks must have helped clinch the decision.

The practice was initiated by Alec Douglas Home in 1964 whereby permanent secretaries from the major departments were allowed to meet the Opposition, under strict guidelines, to discuss their plans in the event of a goverenment defeat. It used to be timed for 6 months before the last date for an election but has since been increased to 15 months. Also alerted to the prospect will be what Peter Hennessy calls the 'Golden Triangle' of the Secretary to the Cabinet(Sir Gus O'Donnell); No 10's permanent secretary(Sir Jeremy Heywood) and the Queen's private secretary(Christopher Geidt). They will be checking out what happened in February 1974 when Edward Heath, despite gaining four fewer seats than Labour, still tried to form a coalition with the help of the Liberals. He failed, Wilson formed his minority government, and won a slim majority in October of the same year.

Is a coalition likely in 2010? The polls currently suggest it would be now that Cameron has failed to capitalise on his 20 point lead from the autumn. But if Cameron leads the biggest party, I can't see Clegg collaborating to keep Brown in power. Expect a further nudging of Clegg towards Tory positions over the next twelve months. And don't expect the Queen to have much or even anything to do with it: the Golden Triangle will make sure of that.

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