Ed Miliband’s hand of friendship has to be one of the shakiest body parts in British politics. Sometimes it’s extended to the Lib Dems,
sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s extended to Nick Clegg, sometimes it’s not. Sure, the Labour leader does appear to have finally settled on a position: that he will only shake the hands of a
Cleggless Liberal party. But that has come after constant wavering on his part, and could well be subject to change.
I mention this now because of a claim in Rachel Sylvester’s column (£) today. I’m not sure
whether it has been made before — but it neatly encapsulates how Miliband has lurched one way and then t’other, and deserves pasting into the scrapbook. Writing of MiliE’s decision not to
tread the boards with Clegg over voting reform, Sylvester writes:
"Not only did this look petty and small-minded, it also involved the Labour leader breaking his word: Mr Miliband had, I gather, personally told the Liberal Democrat leader at a private
meeting a few weeks earlier that he would be happy to stand alongside him to promote the cause of voting reform."
Easy to smile at the politicians duping each other for a change — but, in this case, there could be gloomy consequences for Miliband and his party. Their thinking is clearly that there is no
benefit to courting Nick Clegg, and perhaps even benefits to alienating him. But what happens if there is another hung parliament, and Clegg remains in charge of the Lib Dems? What happens if this
anti-Clegg stance aggravates the wider Lib Dem party? Miliband is risking quite a lot here on contingent factors, rather than planning for them as leaders should.
UPDATE: Ed Miliband’s office get in touch to deny that their man promised to share a platform with Nick Clegg. Their account is that Clegg asked about sharing a platform, and they
merely responded that they would "act on the advice of the Yes2AV campaign." The Yes2AV campaign subsequently advised that Clegg’s involvement was not desired, and so it wasn’t asked for.