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

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

I’m not sure I fancy any meal that’s been cooked up by a computer

John Walsh
Labour leader Ed Miliband delivers a speech on his party's plans for the NHS, in Sale, on Tuesday  

Why is Miliband fixating on the NHS when he’d be better off focussing on the wealth gap?

Andreas Whittam Smith
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness