Michael Moore: Personal Attacks Won't Stop Ed Miliband And Nick Clegg Forming A Coalition

Michael Moore is out of government, but does not intended to step back from the campaign
Michael Moore is out of government, but does not intended to step back from the campaign
David Jones/PA Archive

"My position in the team has changed very obviously, but my commitment to the team effort is undimmed," Michael Moore says.

The Lib Dem MP was unexpectedly fired as Scottish secretary by Nick Clegg in October, the only cabinet level casualty of a mid-rank ministerial reshuffle. "I was disappointed to be reshuffled," Moore admits. "And nobody who is ever reshuffled quite accepts why that was done."

Speaking to The Huffington Post UK, Moore says he "respected Nick's right to make the decision" and that "Alistair is a long time friend of mine, and someone whose abilities I admire".

Alistair is Alistair Carmichael. Moore's replacement as the voice of the Westminster government in the Scottish anti-independence campaign. It has been said that Clegg made the switch in order to bring a more combative style to the fight against the SNP. "We are different styles," Moore concedes. "But Alistair's getting stuck into the role and he will be a great success."

And he is not about to try and distance himself from the current cabinet. "I'm not suddenly going to find my conscience now I'm no longer in government," he says. "So yeah, tough decisions along the way, but I'm not going to resile from decisions I took when I was a minister."

The other big figure in the pro-union campaign is the other Alistair, Alistair Darling, who heads the Better Together campaign. The former Labour chancellor was the subject of a whispering campaign last week, accused by "senior Tory sources" in the Financial Times of being "comatose" in his battle with the charismatic Alex Salmond.

It is a charge Moore quickly shoots down. He says the attack on Darling was made by operatives in No.10 "who weren't brave enough" to put their names to the criticism. "I think Alistair Darling is doing a first class job as leader of Better Together. There may be one or two out of touch people inside the Downing Street machine who are grumbling, but that’s not what's happening in Scotland."

"It's annoying and irritating. I know what will happen, the cat will get the blame. This happens in politics. It happened in the previous government as well, rather famously. It's not the first time Downing Street has briefed against Alistair Darling. He's got broad shoulders and will laugh it off."

The MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk says in the end it does not matter whether the leaders of the pro- or anti-independence campaigns are able to unleash the forces of hell on each other. "Whether it's Alistair Darling against Alex Salmond, or Alistair Carmichael against Nicola Sturgeon. Away from the gladiatorial moments this is a more nuanced decision. It's not about politicians."

Moore, 48, was elevated to the position of Scottish secretary in May 2010. It had first been given to Danny Alexander earlier that month after the formation of the coalition, but he moved to become chief secretary to the Treasury after David Laws had to resign.


Looking forward to the next election, Moore also is quick to dismiss talk that the "gladiatorial" battles in the parliamentary bear pit will have any impact on the character of any future coalition.

Nick Clegg has been on the receiving end of particularly vicious and targeted Labour attacks. Ed Miliband has described the Lib Dem leader as David Cameron's "accomplice". On Wednesday Harriet Harman branded the Lib Dem leader "the very best deputy a Conservative prime minister could ever wish for" - and that's one of the nicer things she has said about him. But Moore says this in no way precludes a Lib-Lab deal after 2015.

"Has anybody looked back to how David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown dealt with each other before the last election? Come on. This is robust politics," he says. "PMQs and other oral questions times are gladiatorial moments where you have to be out there, you have to make your case. That's the way our political system is."

"As all the parties demonstrated in the aftermath of the last general election, if the electorate deals a hand that says none of you has a majority, you have to make things work in the national interest."

"We went through a pretty rigorous process with the Conservatives and Labour and tested both propositions. There is plenty that you can quote from what David Cameron said about Nick Clegg and what Nick Clegg said about David Cameron that would suggest they would never have been able to work together. It hasn't been easy. But they have."

Labour attacks on the Lib Dems won't prevent a coalition, says Michael Moore

Understandably many Lib Dems would much prefer a coalition with Labour after the next election if one were on offer. Former energy secretary Chris Huhne said recently that the DNA of the Lib Dems was anti-Conservative. And he suggested a "radical coalition" with Labour should be sought.

"Maybe Chris would prefer that, maybe a lot of our activists would prefer that, but it's irrelevant if that’s not how the people of Britain vote," Moore says. He adds that to find out what party activists think you would have to poll each individual member across the country. What about a poll of one member, him.

He answers with a smile and a glance to the dictaphone on the table: "I have never expressed a preference in the past because it's very neat for headline. But it doesn’t serve any purpose. It suggests to people we've got ideas above our station."


Moore says the Lib Dems should not be designing the make-up of the next government without the "courtesy" of actually asking voters. "We will set out our stall and we will see what the people of Britain say they want, and we will make the best of that," he says. "I wouldn’t get drawn into saying there will necessarily be an arrangement with one party or another. We will try to get as many MPs as possible. The more MPs we have the stronger negotiating position we have. Any deal, I am sure, will follow the same pattern. The largest party will be the starting point and if that doesn’t work out we will try and form a coalition with other people."

So how many MPs does Moore expect his party to end up with in the parliament of 2015? "Everyone will fight this like it's 57 by-elections, we always have," he says. "Years ago in the 1990s, before I was an MP, I remember a friend, you know, complaining about the national campaign. And people saying, 'remember we win our seats despite the national campaign not because of it'."

It is an approach to elections that infuriates Tory and Labour rivals. But has proved highly effective for the Lib Dems. And their cockroach like ability to survive the nuclear fallout of being in coalition with the Tories was proven at the Eastleigh by-election. "I think that was a symbolic and also psychological moment for us," Moore says. "Holding that seat really underlined that when you talk to people in the right way, when you have a good candidate, when you work hard, we can win. I think that symbolic moment and the months since have got us in the right trajectory."

The polls have not been kind to the Lib Dems since entering coalition though. That must be a worry? "Sure as hell I'd like the opinion polls to lift," Moore says. "I am sure they will as people face up to that particular choice they are making."

In a recent HuffPost UK interview with Nick Harvey, the former defence minister predicted the Lib Dem vote would hold up in the party's target seats even if it dropped away nationally. "Nick and other colleagues are much cleverer sophologists than me, I'll leave the learned speculation to him and you and others," Moore says.

Moore negotiating the independence date with Nicola Sturgeon

In his time in cabinet Moore was responsible for piloting the Scotland Act 2012 through the Commons which would devolve further powers to Edinburgh. He was also in place when the SNP administration in Scotland secured a date for its treasured independence referendum.


The current polls point towards Scots rejecting independence. But Moore warns against complacency. "No politician with any sense takes opinion polls for granted," he says. "Predicting outcomes is a mugs game and I have never done it. I am not going to start now. The other side only have to win by one vote, one per cent, and that's it. An irreversible decision has been taken."

However he appears confident that despite the "hullabaloo" surrounding the SNP's White Paper on independence launch last week, the nationalists missed an opportunity. "It was one of the best shots the nationalists will get at making their case, thus far it seems that its not had a huge impact."

I ask whether the Better Together campaign should be worried about the personal political qualities of Alex Salmond. Who, as the popular belief has it, should not be underestimated. "Personalities loom large in politics," Moore says. And while he makes the admission that the Scottish first minister has charisma on his side, he says this does not matter.

"If we were on some sort of pied piper mission where the leader of any particular party or movement could take us to a promised land without us thinking, then I would be worried. But that's not the way people in Scotland are addressing this," he insists.

"There is a massive disconnect between the popularity of the SNP's position for the Scottish parliament, which has been very strong, and the vote for independence. People have got to stop taking the electorate for mugs. They can tell the difference between political parties running for a parliament and people making the case for Scotland to become an independent country."

For Moore, status quo for Scotland is not an option. "I want further devolution. In a nutshell, more tax powers more borrowing powers," he says. "I am confident whether it is immediately in 2015 or shortly after that, more powers will pass to Edinburgh."

However he presses the point that there is not really such a thing as the status quo when it comes to the British constitutional arrangement. The status quo is a neat device from nationalists to say you are being offered independence or no change. Anyone who is a student of politics, who has looked at the way the constitution in the UK has developed over the last 150 years, will see it hasn’t stopped changing. It has evolved."

More said there is a "consensus on the desirability of more powers from London to Edinburgh". Although he admits there may not yet be cross-party agreement "on what those look like".

Alex Salmond dominates Scottish politics, but Moore says this does not matter

Moore was speaking to The Huffington Post UK on the eve of the Autumn Statement. He said the economy was still "really challenging" for people and that "there is still a great deal of worry about what the future holds".

"We've seen over the last few months the beginnings of an economic recovery. But it's patchy. It's patchy in geography terms. In bits of London and the south of England it's much more obvious that this is happening. It's also patchy by sector. Construction is going well sometimes, in other places it's not doing so well."


Moore also said Clegg and energy secretary Ed Davey had robustly defended the green agenda within government. "People were roundly expecting a complete retreat on stuff, that's not what happened," he said. "We need to be less dependent on fossil fuels because thy are killing the planet and further more they are a finite resource and we don’t get to splurge on this stuff now without any thought to the consequences for our kids and grand kids."

"These are good strong messages we have got through in the last few weeks and if the Conservatives want to turn their back on the realities of the planet and what's happening in terms of finite resources like oil gas and coal, then that's their issues not ours."

With less than 18 months to go until the election, the Lib Dems are determined to stop the Conservatives from taking all the credit for any economic recovery that may emerge. And Moore is clear that the Lib Dems will increasingly make clear the policies they believe they have delivered, as well as those Tory policies they claim to have blocked.

Moore, who was first elected in 1997, sighs as he recalls the Scottish elections two and half years ago. "We had a really dismal time. Good friends of mine, who in other circumstances would still be in the Scottish parliament, lost their seats."

"The conversation we are having with voters now is a very different one to two years ago. There was a lot of anger, a lot of misunderstanding of what was going on and what our role in it was. People are now beginning to look at it in a different light."

"As we work up to the election we will make those points more and more loudly. We will certainly not be shy retiring violets about these things," Moore says. "Because shrinking violets don't get elected."