Should “Life after the Lib Dems” start sooner rather than later?

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 Shaun Dias starts us off by asking whether the Coalition should be allowed to to last until 2015.

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

By Shaun Dias

Home Affairs IDuring the Liberal Democrat Conference, Lord Ashdown has warned Liberal Democrats they would be “completely crazy” to pull out of the coalition before the general election, he praised Nick Clegg as an “outstanding” political figure who deserves to be prime minister and said the outcome of the next election is “delicious” in its unpredictability.

I find Lord Ashdown’s assertion that Nick Clegg “deserves to be prime minister” astonishing. Over the summer the Home Office sent vans around London, apparently aimed at illegal immigrants, bearing the slogan “Go home or face arrest”. To many it was not the sort of stunt one would expect from a Coalition Government with a Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister, or from a Home Office with a Liberal Democrat Minister of State. But Nick Clegg’s response to it was long winded and really highlighted his position in Government. When challenged over whether the Liberal Democrats had signed off the “racist van”, he said it did not need his permission and that it “didn’t require or receive the consent of the Liberal Democrat in the Home Office”.

This is a hardly a defence. More like an awkward attempt to distance himself from a policy decision which is unpopular with his members. Meanwhile Mr Clegg and his allies are doing their best to claim ownership for the early signs of economic recovery to prevent the Conservatives from “hovering up” credit for sticking to deficit reduction.

This attempt to have it both ways when it comes to owning and disowning policies directly contradicts the structure of the coalition that was formed in 2010 where the Lib Dems touted the fact that Mr Clegg was in Number 10 and they would have Ministers in every department. It makes it hard to see how a future coalition with either main party would work as even today this breakdown is causing buyer’s remorse on all sides.

In a recent interview, Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 committee of back-bench MPs (which of course earned its name ending an earlier coalition), and Bernard Jenkin, chairman of the Commons public accounts committee, said the Conservatives need “at least six months” apart from the Liberal Democrats to win voters’ confidence. In light of encouraging signs of an economic recovery and with  the Conservative Party increasingly united over Europe, a growing number of Conservative MPs believe that Mr Cameron should end his partnership with Mr Clegg’s Lib Dems sooner rather than later. Part of me thinks we should split from the Lib Dems so we can find ourselves again, and begin a strong dialogue with the public outlining what is means to be a Conservative, and a real discussion about the policies we will stand on in 2015.

That said a promise was made to stick to the coalition until 2015. I could well be counter-productive to break that promise so soon before asking the electorate for their trust once more.

One thing is for sure, the next two years is going to be bitter fight with our coalition partners as well as the opposition. Whatever happens this is the ideal time to talk about our policies and values. Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband are wasting few opportunities to show why neither of them would make a competent Prime Minister. Instead they resort to bashing the one party who has been working continually to fix the problems created by weak government and poorly managed finances.

This will be the future under the permanent coalition Nick Clegg envisions, and it is one we need to start working to prevent.



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