Andrew Whitaker: Labour’s attempt to woo Lib Dems is a cunning strategy
THE none-too-subtle attempt by Ed Balls to split the Liberal Democrats by appealing to Business Secretary Vince Cable as a man he could do business with saw the shadow chancellor predictably accused of mischief-making in the run up to the party conference season.
The attempt by Mr Balls to woo the Lib Dem cabinet minister was of course an effort to make life more difficult for the increasingly beleaguered Nick Clegg.
However, Mr Balls’ olive branch is also part of an overall strategy being pursued by the UK Labour leadership to target disaffected Lib Dems ahead of the next general election.
Ed Miliband has made a series of high-profile speeches that all had a direct pitch to Lib Dem MPs who are angry at the party’s involvement in the Tory-led coalition at Westminster.
Mr Miliband’s appeal to disillusioned Lib Dems to defect to Labour also extended to individual members of Mr Clegg’s party, who the Labour leader insisted shared many of his values on social justice.
There were those within Labour’s ranks who questioned why Mr Miliband was devoting so much time to attacking the Lib Dems and trying to attract disaffected members.
However, it’s now becoming increasingly clear that Mr Miliband believes Lib Dems could help hand him the keys to 10 Downing Street after the next election.
The Lib Dems stand to lose a large number of Westminster seats at the next election, with many voters who backed the party on an anti-Tory basis likely to turn their backs on Mr Clegg over his decision to throw in his lot with David Cameron.
But Mr Miliband seems to be acutely aware that there is no guarantee that all the seats held by Lib Dems will automatically go to Labour.
The SNP landslide at the last Holyrood election clearly showed that a Lib Dem meltdown is no guarantee of a Labour revival and Mr Miliband appears to have taken this on board.
Mr Miliband’s party is enjoying healthy opinion poll leads over the Tories and the failure of Mr Cameron to win outright at the 2010 general election casts doubt on whether the Prime Minister could add to his support, particularly given the public outcry over his government’s cuts programme.
However, Mr Miliband will be aware that within the next two and a half years before the next election, a great deal could change and that’s why he appears to be looking to create an informal anti-Tory alliance along similar lines to that which sprang up in the early 1990s, when both Labour and Lib Dem voters were largely united in wanting to force the Tories out.
As well as trying to woo disaffected Lib Dem voters, Mr Miliband’s strategy also seems to involve an appeal to Lib Dems on the left, such as Mr Cable, a former Labour Party member, in an attempt to agitate for the appointment of a leader more likely to help prop up a minority Labour government.
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