Alone in the national interest

In the run up to our panel discussion at the Conservative Party Conference, including John Redwood MP and the Daily Mail’s Melanie Phillips, we’ve been asking what “Life After the Lib Dems” will really mean. Today Matthew Corner argues that it would be better to form a minority government than enter another coalition.

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By Matthew Corner

Home Affairs IDespite all the trials and tribulations of coalition and compromise, there remains a lot to be optimistic about, for both conservatism and the country. Unlike our coalition partners we have stamped our mark on government, showing that free market ideas on the economy and public sector reform are the only credible ones. On all the big issues Conservatives are being proven right: tax, employment, education, welfare, immigration and crime and are all areas that have seen the change that voters want. That’s why we’re tying with Labour in the polls midway through the Parliament – a position with little precedent for a governing party.

But if the Conservatives are doing the right thing, the Liberal Democrats are acting as a drag. They have been inconsistent on issues ranging from boundary reform to spending cuts, and by blocking policies including reform to our relationship with the EU, human rights legislation and education, they have gone against the popular consensus: the same poll that put the Conservatives level with Labour has the Lib Dems on only 10%.

This message about the Lib Dem’s negative influence on policy is key to the Conservative Party returning after 2015 as the only party of government. However I would go further and say that even if after 2015 another Lib-Con Coalition seems on the cards the right thing for the party and country would be for the Conservatives to go it alone in a minority government.

Across government, the Liberal Democrats have shown themselves to have no guiding principles. This year, at their conference, they pledged “no spending bonanza” even after the recovery, just hours before finding £600m to fund free school meals for infant school pupils from more affluent families. A policy that is both inconsistent with the now accepted idea that benefits should be more targeted and not universal, but also the wider deficit reduction policy that the Lib Dems signed up to. Now, they are saying that they should be a permanent presence in government, a position that shows a lack of commitment to the centre-right free market reform they have supported, and a willingness to abandon it to stay in power with Labour.

In the run-up to 2015, the Conservative Party needs to make it clear that we own the important reforms that the voters can be certain about, and that the inconsistencies are because of the Liberal Democrats, who have demonstrated the futility of coalition, a type of government only 1 in 10 voters want again.

Take the European Union. The Conservatives are the only party with a chance of being in government who are committed to renegotiating our relationship with the EU and holding a referendum. While this would be far harder without a majority the growing Eurosceptic wing of the Labour Party could make it a possibility. The only thing which would guarantee the British people missing out on a choice for another five years would be Lib Dems in Whitehall.

Meanwhile with a completely Conservative led foreign policy some of the measures that have run counter to British interests for a generation, such as financial regulation, the common agricultural and fisheries policy and restrictions on trade with the rest of the world may finally be gone.

Or how about education – one of the most important things that the Conservatives are doing in government. It is something that even Labour politicians are starting to support, but the Liberal Democrats have acted as a block on freedom for local people and private providers to set up their own schools, preferring instead to allow the old status quo of the postcode lottery. Surely the most liberal thing to do is to put power in the hands of local people, but on the critical matter of education this is being hindered in coalition. The list goes on and on.

So life after the Lib Dems will allow the Conservatives to go further on necessary reform to build on the recovery we have built in coalition. It will also help us make our democracy fairer, and restore respect for our Parliament and the constitution.

Some reforms would have to wait. Only with a working majority would we be able to implement the independent boundary commission’s recommendation to end the idea that votes in Labour seats will be worth more than in Conservative ones, something that the Lib Dems pledged to support before dishonourably u-turning. However life post coalition would be a chance to stop the Liberal Democrats shamefully trying to reform the constitution for their own political advantage. Electoral reform was proven to be something the public had no interest in, and the Nick Clegg’s dog’s dinner of Lord’s reform threatened to remove the expertise that makes ours the ‘mother of all parliaments’ from the upper chamber, while instead allowing it to be stuffed with party apparatchiks.

So there is a lot to be positive about for the Conservative Party after coalition with the Lib Dems. Back in 2010, we had the odds stacked against winning in 2015. Many predicted the coalition would die in its infancy, whilst others said the Conservatives would be punished for austerity and suffer the anguish of opposition after only five years in power. But across the country, slowly but surely, our ideas for the future are gaining support – whereas the Lib Dems have gained a reputation for intransigence and inconsistency.

After 2010 the Coalition made a lot more sense than it will after 2015. Back then we were still facing a spiralling deficit and a Eurozone crisis. The underlying confusion and uncertainty demanded a stable government that a minority party may have been unable to deliver. However, while the big problems left to us by 13 years of Labour mismanagement of the economy are still with us, we would better deal with them with the stronger grip over policy that single party government allows.

Obviously my preference is for a Conservative majority, and I look forward to working towards this over the next 18 months. However it is clear to me that post 2015 we need to avoid being shackled by the inconsistent and fundamentally illiberal Liberal Democrats.  Instead we should be seen as the party owning the sensible and necessary reform required, then life after them will be very good indeed.


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