Divisions over Labour plans to cosy up to Lib Dems

 

Divisions have opened up inside Labour over how to handle the sensitive issue of the party's relationship with the Liberal Democrats and whether there could be a Lib-Lab coalition after the next election.

Yesterday, Ed Miliband said the Liberal Democrats are an "accomplice" of the Conservatives rather than "a brake" on them. But privately, the Labour leader is keen to keep lines open to the party.

"He is a pluralist; he doesn't believe that wisdom resides in one party," one aide said. "He wants Labour to be more liberal than it was in government on issues such as civil liberties."

Other senior Labour figures, including Harriet Harman, the deputy leader, take a more hardline stance on relations with the Liberal Democrats. This month she rebuked Ed Balls, the shadow Chancellor, for publicly wooing Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary.

One Labour insider said: "Harriet and the trade unions are being tribal. They are arguing we should not be cosying up to a party that got into bed with the Tories."

But Jon Cruddas, Labour's policy chief, told a fringe meeting at last week's Liberal Democrat conference, that Nick Clegg's party had been a "benign" influence on the Conservatives inside the Coalition. And last night John Denham, Mr Miliband's parliamentary private secretary, shared a platform with Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrats' deputy leader, at a Fabian Society meeting at the Labour conference.

Mr Denham is launching a new group, Labour4Democracy, to promote pluralism in the Labour movement. He said it was about working with supporters of other parties rather than discussing future relations with the Liberal Democrats, but admitted some Labour figures had opposed Mr Clegg's constitutional reforms because he had entered the Coalition with the Tories.

Mr Denham told last night's meeting: "A tribal, sectarian approach to other parties and their supporters will weaken the chance of progressive change at all."

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