Simon Hughes is a Lib Dem party stalwart and 'Treasure'. He won one of the most contentious by-elections of the modern period, one in which no party covered itself in glory, despite what the preening Labour Party might wish to declare. He has worked Southwark and Bermondsey - a difficult seat with many local issues just a few of which would tax politicians of lesser mettle - for decades now. He remains an important conscience for the party and a persuasive force for what might in less enlightened times have been referred to as the 'left'. Great guy.
The trouble is that he says things like the Lib Dems need a veto in the coalition government and that we could work with Labour. Well, yes, sort of but actually no, Simon.
Don't get me wrong, I am very uncomfortable with the coalition and I still dislike the Tories with a majority of my being (99% of my soul) but I accept that Nick Clegg has delivered us real power and influence for the first time in decades and that a large dollop of the Lib Dem agenda is actually being delivered in government which, if you are sensible about your politics, you will accept is worth paying the price of adopting a fixed grin for when faced with Michael Gove across a table or sitting with Michael Howard in Parliament. (No, Michael, I'm not thinking what you're thinking but I'll bite my tongue for now.)
To ask for a veto in a coalition is to ask for the self-destruct button to be put in the middle of the table during disarmament talks. Some blithering idiot will eventually leap up and press it in the name of 'common sense', the interests of their party or some overweening principle. The simple fact is that in the coalition - in any coalition - everyone knows they can take this course but you don't want to encourage them to do so. You need compromise, you need general agreement, you need to hold your proverbial noses. Holding out the prospect of a 'veto' does not encourage the necessary collegiate thinking. The Lib Dems do not need a veto, we simply need to engage fully with the coalition - as we have done so far - and make sure our voice is heard loud and clear - as we have done.
Now, just like a good Lib Dem, let me immediately defend Simon Hughes by stating that he does not appear to have ever used the term 'veto' but this is how it is being reported in the meejah so this is the charge which must be answered, rightly or wrongly.
On the second point, Simon has commented that a coalition deal with Labour may be possible in the future. Er, just hold on, Simon. The Labour Party has driven this country into the ground in recent years [dissenters please note: PFI, Iraq, outlandish spending pledges in 2010, Tony Blair and our devastated international reputation] and it is now embarked upon an extended period of what will inevitably be vicious infighting as memoirs come out and their leadership race chunters on. Add to that the fact that if the thoroughly duplicitous Ed Balls wins that leadership battle through some mysterious alchemy (a stitch up) I doubt that many Lib Dems would consider any kind of accommodation. I have choked on a deal with the Tories but accepted it as the right thing to do. I would have to seriously consider reaching for the party card and scissors if a deal with Balls were proposed.
There is no doubt that we could make a deal in the future with a much reformed Labour Party which had an entirely new leadership and a much revised set of policies but at the moment that is very far from happening so our Deputy Leader might best consider avoiding comment on it at the moment. Labour has far to go and I don't want my party tarnished by any association with them while they are on this difficult and potentially destructive journey.
What I have always sought from the Lib Dem upper echelons is a clear, unequivocal desire to win elections, not just to carp from the sidelines or seek accommodations with others. Nick and the team are doing great things in Parliament - and getting no thanks for doing so at the moment. In 2015 I'd like to be a candidate again and I'd like to fight for power, not just with Labour or the Tories but on our own terms.
And there is the trouble with Simon in a nutshell, because he did just that the other day when he said that we would fight every seat without making any accommodation with the Tories. Well bingo, I couldn't agree more! The two thirds of voters in Henley who didn't vote for their Tory MP this year need a choice and I want to give them that choice in 2015. Shout, Simon, for all of us but choose your target better.