Our “Life After the Lib Dems” may not start in 2015

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 Mahyar Tousi asks whether the coalition is heading towards a divorce or merely a trial separation.

Join us on Monday 30 September from 5:30-7:00pm for what is sure to be an unmissable event.

By Mahyar Tousi

Home Affairs IIs the coalition headed for divorce in the run up to 2015? Or could it just be a trial separation? Some people believe the 2010 general election was the beginning of a new type of politics: A new era of permanent coalition governments. Despite calls from the electorate for parties to work together in the national interest, both parties have been under a lot of criticism for perceived shifts in what they stand for which are blamed on this marriage of convenience. What a lot of people conveniently ignores the fact that both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats have shifted towards to centre less because of the coalition as opposed to their respective leaderships.

David Cameron, who was elected as a self-styled “compassionate conservative” has been under fire from some of his own members. However this has been nothing compared to what Nick Clegg has had to deal with from his party. Speaking to one of their councillors, I was told that many in Lib Dem HQ blame Downing Street and the way their coalition partners manage this political relationship for what they view as a betrayal of their parties values. Mr Clegg has never made it a big secret that he is of the “Orange Book” wing of the party, more sympathetic the more Liberal free market wing of the party. However this stance directly contradicts the what the Social Democrat wing thought they were signing up for.

With this wing in control the factor I would be able to see in that party is in its title. Being forced to confront these contradictions and make policy for once has manifested itself in hypocrisy: the party has made a public apology for a u-turn tuition fees while going silent after being reminded of the fact that they pledged an EU referendum years before the 2010 general election.

It has been three years since this “arranged marriage” was consumated. Since then too much focus has been on how it might or might not end, as opposed to how it has, and how it will continue, to perform.

Let’s imagine the coalition will last till 2015 and eventually both parties will prepare for a healthy divorce. Whilst they all have to stay loyal to the coalition agreement, we all know that things will get ugly in the run up to 2015. If both sides are smart, they won’t let any dirt from the current administration get out during the election campaign. As unpalatable as it would be for some another Tory dominated, but still hung, Parliament is a clear possibility. Would this result in a renewing of the vows? Or a shift in the “it’s complicated” direction?

During the Liberal Democrat conference, we witnessed two very different reactions to the current arrangement. One was form Paddy Ashdown who said that it would be crazy to end the coalition early. He said, “first of all you are at the wheel of a ship that is passing through the storm. You can’t say ‘excuse me, I want to hop off’. It’s the craziest idea I have heard in my life, he added. “We will we be judged on how well we governed. We will carry this through right through to polling day. I am pretty confident it will be judged in our favour.”

On the other hand you have Vince Cable who warned that the whole thing could come to an end before its five-year term is over. Failing to hide his anger, he said that “It’s certainly possible” after a series of clashes with his Tory partners, even though he claims that he always had the intention to maintain the relationship for five years.

This shows the real divide within the Lib Dems: between those who are willing to be a grown up party of government and those who prefer the comfortable moral superiority which comes with a lack of responsibility.

Regardless of the outcome, it is pretty obvious that the only reason the coalition survived the last few years is because Cameron and Clegg can get along and share a genuine desire to act in the national interest. While clashes do happen, as they should even within a single party government, the current situation seems stable in the eyes of Whitehall and, perhaps surprisingly, to the British people. What is clear though is that whether we now live in an era of coalitions is down to politicians rising above their harsher instincts.


Image from thetimes.co.uk


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