The Liberal Democrats are denying it, but speculation is rife this weekend that former party leader Charles Kennedy is considering defecting to the Labour Party, which was Kennedy’s favoured coalition partner.
It seems likely that this weekend Nick Clegg and other leading pro-Tory Lib Dems are holding talks and making promises in an effort to head off a disastrous defection that could lead to a split in the party.
The timing is terrible for Clegg. It comes amid a tumbling poll performance and shots across the bow of the party’s right from deputy leader Simon Hughes earlier this week. He talked up a possible future coalition with Labour. All this in the run up to what could prove to be a tumultuous party conference.
Like a lot of others on the left of the Lib Dems Kennedy, who is the MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, is upset about the coalition’s spending cuts that look to disproportionately hit the poor hardest.
Kennedy was one of those senior figures in the party who refused to back the coalition deal instead like Hughes and others, thought to include Menzies Campbell and Paddy Ashdown, preferring a deal with Labour.
At the time Kennedy explained: “It is hardly surprising that, for some of us at least, our political compass currently feels confused. And that really encapsulates the reasons why I felt personally unable to vote for this outcome when it was presented to Liberal Democrat parliamentarians.”
Tellingly, so far at lest Kennedy has not made a statement denying the speculation.
Ed Miliband has written the speculation off as “over-excited blogosphere”. Possibly, but the fact remains there are a lot of unhappy Lib Dems and we are only months into this coalition government.
So far the chief result of the alliance with the Tories has been a startling desertion by those who voted for the party at the election and very public signs of discontent. Whether Kennedy goes or not what appears increasingly likely is that Lib Dems will at this rate not make it to a full term in office with their Tory partners. Will it split?