Leading article: Beware the siren voices of alliance

Share

No one can accuse David Cameron of lacking chutzpah. It was a cheeky piece of opportunism for the Conservative leader to call on the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party to join the Conservatives in, as he put it, "creating a new progressive alliance to decentralise British politics".

But no one should blame the Liberal Democrats either for their sharp rebuff. If Mr Cameron had hoped to catch them in a moment of weakness as their acting leader, Vince Cable, prepares to give way to the new leader, when the result of the contest is announced tomorrow he overstepped the mark. In Mr Cable, and the former leader, Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrats had vigilant elder statesmen ready and willing to defend their party's interests.

The Liberal Democrats cannot afford to enter any alliance formal or informal at this stage. Nor do they need to. Barring accidents, a general election is at least two years away. The new leader, whether it be Nick Clegg or Chris Huhne, has time to consolidate his authority and stake out new territory. Why begin by dancing to Mr Cameron's tune?

In saying he wants to put pressure on the Government to decentralise power, the Conservative leader has chosen an issue that is close to Liberal Democrat hearts. And it may be that this is an issue on which the two parties can usefully make common cause. But there are different ways to decentralise government. The new Liberal Democrat leader needs to begin by charting his own course.

The timing of Mr Cameron's overture, however speculative, though, is useful. It is a warning to the Liberal Democrats, once they emerge from their latest bout of introspection, that Mr Cameron is still interested in stealing their political clothes, especially those of a localist and greenish hue. They must be on the look-out for chances to broaden their appeal, while being careful not to dilute the qualities that make them distinctive.

But Mr Cameron's intervention should remind the new Liberal Democrat leader, too, that the next election could give the party its best shot at sharing power for many years. He must always bear that in mind and avoid all appearance of third-party amateurishness. This is a time when the appearance of substance and authority could make all the difference.

To lean too far towards one major party or other would also be a big mistake, however seductive the calls from Cameron-land might sound. It would be folly for any Liberal Democrat leader with a realistic shot at a slice of power, to surrender any of his cards before the bargaining is for real.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior IP Opportunity at Major Firm

vary Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - AN OPENING AT A VERY HIGH Q...

Nursery Manager

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Nursery Manager Long term Ran...

Sales Consultant – Permanent – West Sussex – £24-£25k plus commission and other benefits

£24000 - £25000 Per Annum plus company car and commission: Clearwater People S...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply SEN Support Jobs in Bris...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Liberal Democrats leader says efforts need to be focused on cracking down on the criminal gangs  

Nick Clegg: We should to go to war on drugs, not on addicts

Nick Clegg
East German border guards stand on a section of the Berlin wall in front of the Brandenburg gate on November 11, 1989  

Twenty-five years after the Berlin Wall fell, Hungary’s PM thinks it is Western capitalism that is in its death throes

Peter Popham
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes