Peter Hoskin

Cameron offers the hand of coalition to the Lib Dems

Cameron offers the hand of coalition to the Lib Dems
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Woah, I didn't think Cameron would go that far.  In his statement just now, the Tory leader started off by talking about minority government, as one might expect.  But he soon skipped past that, and onto what sounded like a more formal coalition with the Lib Dems.  He called it the Tories' "Big Comprehensive Offer".

This offer trumped the one that Brown put forward ealier by virtue of its clarity.  Where Brown had hints and innuendo, Cameron had an itemised list of policies and specifications.  And so the Tory leader set out the areas where he wasn't willing to compromise with the Lib Dems: Europe, cutting the deficit and immgration.  Those areas where he thought the two parties could work together with ease: a low carbon economy, the pupil premium, and cutting Labour's national insurance hike.  And those areas where he was willing to accomodate Clegg & Co: lower taxes for low income earners, and reforming the electoral system.  Cameron even proposed a cross-party committee to look into political and voting reform.

Cameron was clearly trying to achieve a balancing act – keeping his own side happy, while also tempting the Lib Dems – but did he pull it off?  Only the events of the next few days will really answer that question.  But the worry for the Tory leadership is that the Lib Dems regard that "cross-party committee" as a con-trick, designed to kick PR into the long grass.  And, on their own side, there may well be general disgruntlement at the very idea of reaching an arrangement with Clegg – as well as at any compromise, however reluctant, on PR.

For now, though, things are still deeply uncertain.  The Tories are letting it be known that Cameron's offer may not actually mean coalition with the Lib Dems – it all depends on how negotiations go over the next few days.  But, whatever happens, the Tories have got a headstart over Labour today.  After Clegg's and Cameron's speeches, you sense that the two party leaderships are already open to working with each other, whether informally or formally.  And that, in the end, would leave Brown finished.