A week after the biggest test so far for Liberal Democrats in the coalition Government, one man at least is clear on his position.
“The coalition deal was a bad one and we should not have made it,” says Prof. Richard Grayson, the former Lib Dem director of policy who caused waves at the highest level of British politics this week, after calling in an article in the Observer last Sunday for his party to engage with like-minded elements of the Labour Party.
Prof. Grayson, now a lecturer in modern history at Goldsmiths, has become a champion for what he sees as the “broadly centre-left majority” within the Liberal Democrats, disillusioned by the role the party is playing in the Coalition Government. As early as June he famously declared that Lib Dems might soon find themselves in “a centre-left party being led by the centre-right.”
This week, in reaching out to Labour, he has laid down the gauntlet to Nick Clegg and a party leadership that many feel have auctioned off Lib Dem values to a Conservative agenda.
Grayson started work at Goldsmiths in 2004, after five years as the chief policymaker in the Liberal Democrat party under Charles Kennedy, for whom he also served as speechwriter between 1999 and 2001. At the past two general elections he has been chipping away at a solid Conservative majority in his hometown of Hemel Hempstead.
Now he spends more time in the lecture theatre than the party HQ, but as this week’s intervention makes clear, his political conscience is still restless.
Labour leader Ed Miliband welcomed the call for closer ties on Monday, inviting Prof. Grayson to submit recommendations for the party’s upcoming policy review.
Grayson told ELL that he would be taking Mr Miliband up on his offer as well as “encouraging other Liberal Democrats to engage in a pluralist manner.”
Lib-Lab collaboration is nothing new of course. Grayson himself led calls for a “progressive coalition” during the heady post-election days in May, and throughout the Paddy Ashdown years there were close ties between the parties and backroom talks over a potential deal.
But with the Liberal Democrats now a party of government, and Labour the official opposition, any suggestion of renewing ties is likely to prove controversial.
Indeed, Liberal Democrat party president Tim Farron has spurned calls for collaboration and, in an implied criticism of Prof. Grayson, said only “an insane progressive” would consider them.
But after 21 Lib Dem MPs defied the Government in last week’s controversial tuition fees vote, the patience of the party’s centre-left element seems to be running out.