Adonis: Lib-Lab talks ‘should start now’

By Alex Stevenson

Labour should begin backroom talks with the Liberal Democrats immediately, former Cabinet minister Andrew Adonis has urged in an interview with politics.co.uk.

The principal advocate of a Lib-Lab tie-up during last year's hung parliament negotiations said he wanted left-wingers to be "talking intensively" with left-leaning Lib Dems uncomfortable with the coalition's policies.

Opposition to News International's takeover bid against BSkyB and the AV referendum have seen Labour and the Lib Dems unite on an unofficial basis against the Conservative party.

Now Lord Adonis, currently director of the Institute for Government thinktank, hopes the "quasi-public dialogue" seen in the phone-hacking scandal can be supplemented by behind-the-scenes negotiations.

Interview: Institute for Government's Andrew Adonis

"Having a dialogue with the Liberal Democrats is important and it can take many different forms," he told politics.co.uk.

"It can take the form of a quasi-public dialogue as it did in the case of phone-hacking, but there's a lot of private dialogue that needs to take place too.

"I hope that will strengthen the progressive side of politics and in due course maybe promote some new forms of Lib-Lab partnership."

Although the Lib Dems are expected to remain in the coalition until 2015, Lord Adonis claimed many in the government's junior party felt they were in a "coalition of necessity" rather than a "coalition of belief".

"Labour will obviously fight the next election as a strong independent party," he added.

"It'll be pretty strongly opposed to the Orange Book wing of the Liberal Democrats but there's a lot of the Lib Dems who are not in the Orange Book [camp]. Those are the ones we need to be talking to intensively in the years ahead, including now."

Labour leader Ed Miliband has twice sought to appeal to the Lib Dems. In August 2010 he invited disaffected party members to "look again at Labour". And in December 2010 he made an "offer" to "deeply frustrated and even ashamed" Lib Dems.

Lord Adonis said the last year had "brought clarity on the nature of the division within the Liberal Democrats".

A centre-right minority believing in a smaller state, whose approach is reflected in the coalition government's policies, clashes with a majority of "progressives" in the party including Roy Jenkins, Paddy Ashdown and David Steel, the former transport secretary suggested.

"They believe in an activist state, not a minimal state and they believe in the role of public action in promoting equality and social justice," he said.

"That wing of the Liberal Democrats, the progressive wing, has a huge amount in common with the Labour party. We need to keep talking with progressive Lib Dems so we can open up avenues of partnership in the future."