But, intriguingly, there are others at the heart of Project Gordon who think an all-embracing government could go a lot further than that. "Will we offer jobs to Liberal Democrats?" mused one. "I'd say it's more a question of when. Now, from a position of strength; in the run-up to the general election when we may need to; or afterwards, when we may have to." Could Brown really be about to invite Lib Dems to join his cabinet - Menzies Campbell as foreign secretary, say, and Nick Clegg at Environment? Unlikely maybe, but I have encountered few prepared to dismiss the idea entirely. On all opinion-poll and electoral evidence, Labour seems on course to do less well at the next election than at the last. In 2005, the slump in majority was attributed to a relatively small net move away from Labour and a slightly smaller net switch to the Lib Dems. Gordon Brown needs those votes back. Even without an open change in policy, he could turn the page on Iraq by appointing Campbell, Britain's best-known mainstream moderate opponent of the war. I trespass into such a secret society at my own risk, but I do know that Brown refers to Campbell as "my friend" and that both men have strong links with Edinburgh. The original Ashdown/Blair consultative committee on constitutional reform, formed after the
1997 election victory, was a largely Scottish affair, driven by Robin Cook, Robert MacLennan . . . and Campbell. Brown could claim to be completing the plans for "a progressive century" of centre-left government, abandoned by Blair when his landslide meant he didn't need Liberal Democrat votes in parliament after all. Things have got a lot tighter in the division lobbies since then. Rebellions are habit-forming, and a decent quota of Lib Dems would at least cancel out the "John McDonnell" faction.
Boulton says that no one he talks to in the Brown circle rules it out. Personally, I think it is probably fanciful, but let's look at the consequences if Brown did offer and Campbell accepted.
In my view it would lead to the breakup of the LibDems and to the completion of the left wing realignment which Tony Blair and Paddy Ashdown failed to achieve in the late 1990s. There's no doubt that about half the LibDems would think a deal with Brown would be a fantastic achievement, but it's also clear that the other half certainly would not. They are the true inheritors of the Gladstonian liberal mantle and they see very little that is liberal in the Brown policy programme. These are the 'Orange Bookers'. They would have to be dragged kicking and screaming into any sort of tie-up with the Labour Party.
The Brown/Campbell personal relationship should not be underestimated in this. It was at the heart of Ming's disastrous Harrogate speech in March. Ming would love to be in Brown's government. But the reason he won't be is that he knows it would lead to a total split in his own Party. It would make the to-ing and fro-ing of the Welsh Liberal Democrats look like a storm in a tea-cup. The devil in me says 'bring it on', but the realist in me knows that it won't happen.