LibLink: Charles Kennedy – Why I couldn’t support Clegg’s deal with the Tories

In The Observer today, former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy has highlighted his unease at the Lib-Con coalition government, and explains he would have preferred to explore the possibilities of an alliance with Labour:

… [last week’s events] drive a strategic coach and horses through the long-nurtured “realignment of the centre-left” to which leaders in the Liberal tradition, this one included, have all subscribed since the Jo Grimond era. It is hardly surprising that, for some of us at least, our political compass currently feels confused. And that really encapsulates the reasons why I felt personally unable to vote for this outcome when it was presented to Liberal Democrat parliamentarians.

Having felt unable to support the Lib-Con agreement, Charles acknowledges the unlikelihood of a Lib-Lab pact:

Like many others I was keen to explore the possibilities of a so-called “progressive coalition”, despite all the obvious difficulties and drawbacks. It remains a matter of profound disappointment that there was insufficient reciprocal will within the Labour party – and they should not be allowed to pose in opposition purity as a result.

His preferred option, it seems, was to allow the Tories to form a minority government:

I felt that such a course of action would have enabled us to maintain a momentum in opposition, while Labour turned inwards. But the understandable anxiety among colleagues about an early second election scuppered that option. To which might be added the significant reality of devolved general elections in just less than a year’s time in both Scotland and Wales.

He closes by looking ahead, with the gentlest of warning shots across the bows of those entering government:

So now we must look to a centre-right government to deliver the appetising menu of liberal measures contained within the coalition agreement. In so doing the wider, non-governmental sections of the party – inside and outside parliament – will have a continuing family responsibility to help articulate values and a vision that underpins what our colleagues are seeking to enact in ministerial office. We must not forget that the real political personality of this administration, the one that will evolve steadily in people’s minds over months and years, will be driven as much by reflex reactions to unexpected events as by carefully negotiated, pre-planned, legislative intent. So there will have to remain room for everyone.

You can read Charles’s article in full here.

Interestingly, Evan Harris – widely regarded as a champion of the social liberal wing of the Lib Dems – was quick to make clear his disagreement with Charles:

I’ve been aligned with Charles Kennedy on the most progressive side of the Liberal Democrats as have many, many others of the 50 MPs who voted for this agreement. So I think Charles is out of step, not only with the party on this, but with that wing of the party that is the most progressive. … The only options were allowing a minority, unfettered, unmitigated, undiluted Conservative administration that would then cut and run within a year when it thought it could get the extra couple of per cent that under our electoral system it feels it needs to win an overall majority, or to have this stable coalition.”

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This entry was posted in LibLink.


  • As usual, Evan Harris sums up the situation perfectly – such a shame he lost his seat. I can’t bring myself to cry too many tears over Lembit, but Evan is a sore loss to our parliamentary party…

  • Personally I think Charles Kennedy did much to lay the foundations for this coalition, it’s a pity he appears to have either forgotten or now thinks that’s a bad thing:

  • David Morton 16th May '10 - 9:08pm

    Just in case poor Charlie gets a hatchet job in the current climate can I suggest some licensed and mildly put opposition from a senior figure may actually be *helpful* to the party’s structural integrity. If the belief takes hold that anyone unhappy, sceptical or opposed should just sod off we’ll all rue the day.

  • Reasonable arguments reasonably put.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 16th May '10 - 9:44pm

    This Kennedy guy sounds like a Labour troll …

  • Catherine – I think the fact that he’s regarded well enough to be referred to so often on the TV and in the papers bodes well for his return. He’s also very popular in Oxford (perhaps not in Abingdon?) so I’d be surprised if he didn’t come back next time round. A certain famous WWII prime minister lost his seat more than once and came back to get the plum job, so I’m sure expecting Evan to come back as an MP some time isn’t too overly optimistic.

  • Hasten to add that it’s just an example that it’s not uncommon for MPs to lose their seats but still survive politically in the long term.

  • Two of the shining lights of the Lib dems for me.
    Kennedy is the greatest leader we didn’t realise we had and his words here resonate.
    Evan Harris was the biggest disappointment of a terrible night, I really hope he will be back.

  • Fair enough. Kennedy was a great leader and I told him as much when I saw him. It would’ve been nice to make a centre-left alliance but Labour aren’t centre-left.

  • “Evan is a sore loss to our parliamentary party” – On the bright side he’d be almost certain to get back in under AV: all the more reason to campaign for ‘yes’!

  • Andrew Suffield 17th May '10 - 2:41am

    I can’t disagree with the “I wish there had been better coalition options” sentiment, and most of what Kennedy says here is a fairly common position in the Lib Dems – there are risks here, and this needs to be handled very carefully to make sure it works out well. But none of that adds up to “couldn’t support”, the body of the article never says that, and he doesn’t appear to be making a case for not supporting the effort.

    Now, given that I know Guardian headlines are often written by the editor and not by the author of the article, could it be that the headline is shameless editorial spin?

  • @Andrew Suffield

    Yes, but if Kennedy felt he was being misinterpreted I’m sure he would let them, and us, know.

    What annoys me is that he went to the media first, without at least trying to have a dialogue with the party. It’s as if he speaks to these papers to announce to us what he wants us to know, rather than just telling us.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 17th May '10 - 8:41am

    “But none of that adds up to “couldn’t support”, the body of the article never says that …”


    It says:
    “And that really encapsulates the reasons why I felt personally unable to vote for this outcome when it was presented to Liberal Democrat parliamentarians.”

  • David Raynor 17th May '10 - 11:52am

    How very sad that theTories have well and truely taken over the party.

    Charles was a great leader and our party was on the turn, as it turned on him in his hour of need. I now know why1 The Tory element had already set in and were on the march.

    There really does need to be some measure and some need to resurrect the Lib Dem party away from this Tory centric position it nows finds itself in.

    I am genuinely sick about this takeover and any amount of pretentious crap doesn’t wash with me.

  • David Chapman 17th May '10 - 6:46pm

    I’m not sure what a “realignment of the centre-left” might look like these days. Interesting that the most exciting Lib Dem policies enacted by the new coalition during week one(ie, no ID cards,no 3rd runway, no kids in detention etc) were all policies of a supposedly centre left Labour Party. Isn’t this just an old SDP pipe dream of dumping the Labour looney left to form a new grouping of social liberals and Labour’s social democratic majority? Well seems like things have moved on. Labour’s left has given up the ghost and the social democratic wing got totally seduced by Thatcherite economics and a liking for authoritarian state intervention. Seems any ‘re-alignment’ should be around issues of de-centralised economic and political power within a seriously green re-thinking of future development. That means the Lib-Dems, Greens and, rather weirdly I admit, some elements of the tory party. See Philip Blond’s writings for some very interesting new thinking that seems to be getting serious consideration on the centre-right. I might be wrong and labour might buck-up. But after seeing leadership fav David Miliband launch his campaign i think little new is coming from that direction.

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th May '10 - 10:00am

    Well, I read Charles Kennedy’s article carefully, but what is this “left” he wants to re-align and how does he wish to re-align it? Old people like myself may remember there was a dim and distant time when “soclaiism” was taken to be a serious ideology rather than a few weirdoes standing in the streets of our inner cities banging on about Palestine or some other such issue which however important it is in the wider scheme of things is not going to win over Mr and Mrs Sun-reader from being duped into voting Tory. The “re-alignment of the left” was something to do with those days when people took socialism seriously, but with approaching senility I cannot remember what it was all about.

    At any rate, watching the Milibands and Balls prancing about as if they hadn’t presided over the collapse of our economy in an unsustainable boom, the collapse of public services due to mass depression caused by their targetting culture, the sell-out of control of much of our economy to fat cats who have no loyalty to this country, etc, is enough to make me feel quite warm towards the current coalition. Whenever that feeling of sickness comes across when contemplating the reality of having to regard Cameron et al as”allies”, just think of the Milibands and see how quickly it goes away.

    Cruddas ruling himself out of the Labour leadership competition seals it. Right now, there is no left worth re-aligning with.

  • If any party needs to “re-align” it is the Conservative party.

    What the coalition has so far demonstrated is that they are split down the middle.

    There is the left of the party = one-nation Tories prepared to work with Liberals for the good of the country.

    And then there is the aggressive vocal but hopelessly out of touch right wing of the party – basically barking mad Thatcherites who believe in hanging and flogging. These people are the equivalent of the Militant tendency in Labour in the 1980’s. They need to peel off and join UKIP.

    If the LibDems really want to be constructive during this coalition, they need to whatever they can to help achieve this split in the Tory party for their own good, for the good of the country and, dare I say it, for the good of the

  • Paul McKeown 22nd May '10 - 1:10pm

    @John Davis

    I would suggest that if you were to make a comparison between the Dutch and British political party systems, you would conclude that the Conservative Party is equivalent to the sum of the VVD (market oriented party), CDA (Christian Democrats), SGP (fundamental Christian party), PVV (nasty anti-immigration party) and a lump of Britain’s own UKIP which has yet to break away. What is the point of such a broad coalition of interest, apart from suppresing debate in the interest of obtaining power. The danger in voting for such a broad party is that one never knows who will end up pulling the strings.

  • Paul McKeown 22nd May '10 - 1:21pm

    @John Davis

    A similar analysis is possible of Labour, too. It is an enormous coalition of conflicting interests. Frankly I would find it difficult to vote for either as they are currently constituted. British political thought seems to be missing a “grey” party pushing for the needs of elder citizens; this is best represented, but very inadequately to my mind in the Labour party. One further thought, with Zac Goldsmith, can one foresee a new political strand of though, Green economic liberals?

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