In the immediately previous post I've argued that all parties should avoid indulging in "red line" speculation however hard the media press. Far more fruitful would be for us all concentrate on the policies on which we are are campaigning and say that, in the event of our not winning an outright majority of MPs, which the minor parties obviously won't, we will in post-election negotiations, argue as strongly as possible for the items on our "wish-lists." Obviously we shall be unable to achieve them all: that's the nature of the compromises made necessary in mature multi-party politics.
Unfortunately this advice has been ignored and the party leaders are spending too much time, and in the process being made to look feeble, by evading commitments about what they will and won't do.
The Liberal Democrat list of "red lines," (issues on which we shall refuse to join a coalition or give tacit support to a minority government without agreement to them) grows longer every day:
- guaranteed increases in education spending;
- personal tax allowance raised to £12 500;
- balancing the budget (this from the party which is the heir of Keynes!);
- investing a further £8bn in the NHS;
- protecting the environment;
- wage rises for public servants once the budget is balanced.
The Liberal Democrats are not a "think tank"or pressure group whose aim is to influence the government. We are a political party whose aim is to be, or be part of, the government and see our policies put into practice. In spite of our unpopularity and errors we have in fact achieved a good deal in government, (I'm happy to offer my list of 23 if anyone's interested) and should be fighting hard to do the same again.
Retirement to the opposition benches to lick our wounds and "regroup" is not a bold option.
More worryingly, it seems to me that the "red line" issues are in fact rather woolly and it wouldn't be difficult for a Tories, with a fair dollop of fudge, to acceded to them.
Education is a "protected" department and there are many ways in which "increased spending" can be interpreted; the Tories have already grabbed the personal tax allowance issue and pretend it is their own; we have already caved in to the "balanced budget" obsession; investing in the NHS will be acceptable to the Tories, if, as is likely, it is accompanied by further privatisation; protecting the environment can be interpreted in many ways; and public servants' wages cannot be frozen for ever.
By contrast the pledge that, whatever the circumstances, we shall not join a government which depends on SNP support (see previous post) is quite specific and, unless we and Labour (plus the Green[s] and Welsh) between us can cobble together a majority without the SNP, that rules out any "rainbow coalition."
Has Nick Clegg carefully crafted a situation in which the only possible outcome for us will be either opposition or another coalition with the Tories? I hope not.