I confess that I can’t really fathom what Labour’s campaign strategy has been this week. Ever since the first debate last week they seem to have been content to focus on taking David Cameron down, even if that benefits the Liberal Democrats rather than themselves. Is this just simple cynicism that even coming in third in the public vote, they could still have enough MPs to form a fairly stable government? Surely it can’t be – the British public’s lack of interest in their extraordinary voting system is great, but a party coming in third, with just 27% of the vote, and still forming the government just feels to me as if it would test the British public’s patience too far. I really can’t see a government formed on that basis lasting very long, and I can’t imagine that Messrs Brown and Mandelson would think so either.
No – to listen to Labour figures, all last week but especially this morning, condemning the attacks on Nick Clegg , it sounds as if they really aren’t worried because they think the Lib Dems will simply be so delighted to have the chance to go into government with them, that it is all a done deal. The only thing they need to do is to prevent the Conservatives having a proper majority, and they will get to stay in government.
This really is extraordinary. If this really is what they think, then they simply do not seem to have discerned the very basic insight that if Liberal Democrat MPs and members had wanted to support a Labour government, then they would have joined the Labour party. If you want, as Chris Huhne put it this morning, a cushy route to government, then you do not join the Liberal Democrats.
Liberal Democrat criticism of what this Labour government has been doing over the last thirteen years is not just grandstanding, it’s actually because we think they are wrong.
But the extent of this delusion really does amaze me. The most startling appearance of it to me of all – and I promise I am not making this up – came right at the start of the campaign. My wife and I were in a hospital, in the run-up to the birth of our daughter, almost three weeks ago. We found ourselves discussing with a consultant two possible medical courses of action. He decided that the best way of illustrating the point of having to accept a less-than-ideal outcome, was to compare it to the Liberal Democrats’ prospects in the Election. As he explained, the Liberal Democrats might want to form a government, but they would be willing to support a government of another party as the best chance they were going to get.
In the context of discussing obstetric options, this was truly surreal. In the context of the election campaign, the idea that the Liberal Democrats – sympathetic though they may be to a one or two of the things that a tired and directionless Labour government has done – want to support it to remain there, is just wrong.