Ed Miliband’s text messages to Vince Cable may have got him in trouble with his own political party and even resulted in party officials taking away his mobile phone.
They also have been text messages sent to the wrong person if Ed Miliband’s serious about preparing the ground for future Labour-Liberal Democrat cooperation.
That’s not only because Vince isn’t a simple figure of the centre-left. Yes, many in Labour might like his rhetoric about the banks, but remember his role in tuition fees? And yes, many in Labour might like his enthusiasm for Keynes, but remember his calls in the Orange Book for a cap on public spending as a percentage of GDP? The list goes on (and rather to Vince’s credit in many ways, for if all your views fit neatly in one place on the political spectrum, that always rather suggests that you’ve not really thought them all through; almost everyone who thinks seriously about policies one by one ends up supporting a few that don’t fit).
It’s also because it misses the one area which consistently has been the most fruitful grounds for co-operations between Labour and the Liberal Democrats: political reform. It’s not exactly a 100% success rate as the words “AV referendum” remind us. Yet remember too the Cook-Maclennan agreement ahead of the 1997 general election and the good number of policies as a result subsequently and successfully implemented. Remember too the cooperation in Scotland in creating a Scottish Parliament, elected by a reformed voting system.
It’s certainly one area where the political instincts of both Labour and the Liberal Democrats should and often do fit together on one side of the political battle with Conservatives on the other. Labour and Lib Dems want to change the political power structures; Conservatives want to conserve. There is a clue is in the name after all.
It’s also an area that neatly taps into Liberal Democrat unhappiness with Conservatives and the way they walked away from their commitments to House of Lords reform (see Nick Thornsby’s Six examples of Tory support for an elected House of Lords).
There is plenty of unfinished business on political reform on which Labour and the Liberal Democrats could co-operate.
So really Ed, as and when Labour officials let you at a mobile phone, you should be sending your text messages to the Liberal Democrat in charge in this area. That’s be one Nick Clegg.