Monday, 30 March 2015
Vive les coalitions
I normally have a great respect for the opinions our former leader David Steel but was rather surprised to hear him reported last week as suggesting that in the event of another balanced parliament, if the party is in a position to make a choice we should opt for offering "confidence and supply" to a minority government rather than enter another coalition.
Surely, as the party which believes that the main function of parliament is to represent the varied opinions of the people as broadly as practicable through proportional representation by STV we accept that, when parliament exercises its other function, as an electoral college to select a government, coalitions are almost inevitable.
As we know to our cost, being inside and government and making a contribution is much harder and much less fun than remaining outside the government and just criticising. Surely, and as Nick Clegg and Co wisely decided in 2010, the party exists to implement as many as possible of our policies, not just act as a source of useful suggestions. Think tanks can do that.
We have to our credit a whole string of achievement which would not have happened had we been on the sidelines criticising rather than in government for the last five years. To my mind by far and away the most important of these is the fixed term parliament, though our election strategists don't seem inclined to shout about this. They prefer the raising of the income tax threshold, the triple lock pensions, the pupil premium, equality for mental health patients, the green investment bank etc. (I have a list of another 17 if anyone is interested.)
So I hope that we shall be in a position to form part of the next government, and I believe it is counter-productive to make too many hostages to fortune by saying too much about who we will and won't join with. We must, as Simon Hughes aptly put in 2010, "play the cards the electorate deals."
So it is not wise to rule out joining a government along with, say, the SNP. They, like us, will have to make sacrifices, and if they will, in the short run, settle for Home Rule rather than immediate independence, well, that's been Liberal/Liberal Democrat policy for a century, so why not? And, as I've argued before, they have by far the best economic policy.
Liberal Democrats joining a government that also relies on the support of UKIP doesn't seem very likely. (This is one of the two issues on which I agree with David Cameron: they are best regarded as "fruitcakes.") But if their major demand is for a referendum on Europe it wouldn't be the end of the world. We have, after all (though wrongly in my view) said that we would have one if there were a major treaty change which transferred further powers to Europe, so having one anyway wouldn't be a great betrayal and would help to clear the air. We should, have course, have to do what the Tories did on Electoral Reform; concede the referendum and then campaign for IN rather than out.
Of course to maximise our potential for being in government we have to win as many seats as possible, and then, this time, "play our cards right.". So there is all to play for: we should not settle for second best -sniping from the sidelines. We can leave that to Paxman et al.