"Not A Play Thing For Lord Mandelson"

In the surreal twists and turns of British politics this past week, Gordon Brown's attempt to seize an opportunity for a Labour-Liberal coalition was one of the most startling. It felt like something perfectly out of Lord Mandelson's playbook - Machiavellian, ruthless, and based on an abiding hatred of all things Tory. But it seems to have backfired:

Some Lib Dem negotiators were unimpressed by the demeanour of the Labour negotiators, claiming they showed no real interest in a deal.

The attitude of Labour backbenchers has also undermined the pro-Labour forces inside the Lib Dems, as they face the reality that a coalition, needed to force through a deficit reduction programme, will be unstable for as long as two to three years.

Many Labour MPs, including those from northern heartlands and Scotland, seem to be furious that they were not consulted on the deal. One party member close to a leadership campaign said: "The party is not a plaything of Lord Mandelson."

The Tory proposal - to offer the Lib-Dems a referendum on Alternative Voting - seems a genuine and real concession that is about as far as the party could go without splitting in half. So Cameron lives on as a potential prime minister. Here's hoping he gets there sooner rather than later.

By the way, if you want an almost perfect flavor of the debate in Britain right now, watch the Youtube above. It's a rare moment in which private passions burst out in public - and helps you understand why Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's legendary press enforcer, is regarded by so many as a noxious influence in political life in Britain.