Julian Astle: The Lib Dems must be part of the solution, not part of the problem

Share
Related Topics

The election of a self-styled "liberal Conservative" as Tory leader should have increased the likelihood of meaningful co-operation between the two main opposition parties. But a perception that David Cameron "talks left but walks right" has fuelled Liberal Democrat suspicions about his modernisation project.

There are, in truth, only three policy areas where significant agreement could be reached: localism, education and civil liberties. On tax, the environment, criminal justice, Europe and constitutional and political reform, the parties are simply not on the same page.

It seems unlikely that the two parties could work together in a formal governing coalition. Nick Clegg won't rule this out before the election but he knows that to take his party into a Conservative-led administration, he would have to exact a political price (including a commitment to electoral reform) that Mr Cameron and his colleagues will never be prepared to pay. Furthermore, with no fixed-term parliaments, and the prime minister able to call another election at any time, the Lib Dems believe the political conditions needed to give a coalition even a fighting chance of survival are simply not in place.

But it would be a mistake to assume that the two parties will be unable to come to any agreement or understanding in the event of an inconclusive election result.

Why? The urgent task of avoiding a protracted period of political instability and uncertainty – a task that any market volatility in the days and weeks following polling day will make more urgent still.

Another reason is the Liberal Democrats' desire not to be seen to frustrate the democratic will of the people. If voters kick Gordon Brown out of the front door of No 10, Mr Clegg has no intention of letting him in the back door.

The Liberal Democrats, then, will find it difficult, if not impossible, to enter a Conservative-led coalition. But it will be no easier to revert to "business as usual" opposition. Whether they deal with a minority Conservative administration on a simple issue by issue basis, or enter into a more formal agreement – some kind of "confidence and supply" deal in which they promise to support the government in a number of key votes in return for policy concessions – they will need to act responsibly.

The party's leadership understands this only too well. The dangers of being seen to destabilise the government at a time of economic crisis significantly outweigh the short-term benefits of defeating the government on a series of Commons votes. In a hung parliament, the Liberal Democrats will wield significant political power but will have to use it sparingly. They will be an opposition party but in many ways will have to think and act like a governing party.

With politics set to be dominated for the foreseeable future by the need to tackle the UK's massive structural deficit, the overriding objective for the Lib Dems will be to demonstrate that they are part of the solution, not the problem.

Julian Astle is director of CentreForum. To read the report in full go to www.centreforum.org/publications/a-lib-con-trick.html

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Client Services Assistant

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Client Services Assistant is ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior / Senior Sales Broker - OTE £100,000

£20000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportuni...

Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Duty Manager is required to join one of the ...

Recruitment Genius: Team Leader

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Team Leader is required to join one of the l...

Day In a Page

Read Next
9.4 million people watched the first of the three-way debates at the last election. The audience for the one on Thursday is likely to be far lower.  

David Cameron needs to learn some new tricks – and fast

Steve Richards
The 2010-formed Coalition was led by a partly reformed Conservative Party, checked and balanced by Nick Clegg  

How did the Coalition ever manage to work together so harmoniously?

Isabel Hardman
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor