The Silly Season continues with yet more speculation on what happens after the 2015 election. Monday’s Independent carried the loaded headline:
Lib Dem Supporters spell it out: we won’t be fooled by Nick Clegg again over support for a coalition
That Liberal Democrats will be wary about any future coalition, with anybody, should come as no surprise. The deductive reasoning powers of the average goldfish could have worked that out.
The article quotes people like Martin Tod, Gareth Epps and Cllr Richard Kemp, all of whom are saying quite reasonable things, none of them suggesting that Nick Clegg fooled us in 2010, although they all said they’d look more closely at any future deal. Gareth Epps took the chance to have a good go at the Home Office’s poster vans, an issue on which he finds himself in agreement with the leader, at least two other Liberal Democrat members of the Cabinet and virtually every other Liberal Democrat parliamentarian and member.
My guess is that you’d find just as many Liberal Democrats sceptical about a deal with Labour. Remember who introduced the controversial Work Capability Assessment in the first place? Who wanted to lock people up for 90 days? Whose legislation was used to detain David Miranda the other day? Who started an illegal war with Iraq?
What concerns me most about the article is a source close to Nick Clegg again insulting party members:
But the Deputy Prime Minister’s allies fear he would run into entrenched opposition from activists for a fresh Tory-Lib Dem pact – even if that was the election’s logical outcome.
One said there were now some “totally irrational people” in the party who would not accept another coalition with the Tories under any circumstances.
“It would be much harder a second time round to get it past the party. There will be people far less willing to take things on trust. It would be very hard for Nick to get through,” he told the Independent.
The final paragraph of that quote is absolutely fine. It certainly doesn’t do any harm for the other parties to know that Liberal Democrat membership will be sceptical of any deal. It should be as much a message to Labour that if they think they can come and present their manifesto and expect us to meekly sign up to it, they’ll be told to take a running jump. However, the phrase “totally irrational” is one which should never have survived the journey from brain to lips. Sources close to the leader would be well advised to stop slagging people off who don’t agree with them. It’ll just put people off and widen the disconnect between leadership and grassroots.
It is way too early to start talking coalition deals now, anyway. What matters is the relative standing of the parties the day after polling day. That will dictate our options. I’ve been round that particular block before, in 2003 after the second Holyrood election. Our vote had pretty much held up, while our Coalition partner between 1999 and 2003 had lost six seats. On the strength of that result, we got Labour to agree not just to STV to local government, but to spend more money on health promotion and we brought back free eye and dental check ups which had been in our 1999 manifesto.
If we want Liberal Democrat values to be implemented by the next government, we need lots of Liberal Democrats to be elected. The biggest factor in the sort of Coalition deal, if any, struck in 2015 will be the number of Liberal Democrats in the House of Commons. We need to all be out knocking on doors now to lay the groundwork for the best possible result. We know that people are ready to listen to us again – it’s up to us to get out there and seal the deal. Nick Clegg’s friends would be best placed to say things that motivate members and keep away from the things that make us mutter under our breath. Think charm, not offensive.
* Caron Lindsay is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings