Daniel Korski

Clegg’s consigliere: Lib Dems would “sustain the Tories in power”

Clegg’s consigliere: Lib Dems would "sustain the Tories in power"
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Everyone has been guessing at what Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats would do if the voters return a hung parliament after the next election. The Lib Dem leader has sent all kinds of mixed signals. But if there is one person worth listening on the party’s intentions it is Julian Astle, the head of CentreForum, Britain’s leading Liberal think-tank, and a former political advisor to Paddy Ashdown. Astle has, in recent years, acted as one of the Lib Dem’s unofficial consiglieri – but one that has never shied away from challenging party orthodoxy. He has, for example, argued against the Liberal Democrat pledge to abolish tuition fees – showing it would involve a significant redistribution of resources from poor to rich.

Now he has published a report about the chances of a Lib-Con pact. Astle argues that policy divisions would prevent Nick Clegg entering into a formal coalition and sitting in Cabinet, but there would be enormous pressure on him to "act responsibly" in a hung parliament and "sustain the Tories in power" if they won more seats."Necessity is the mother of invention," the report notes, "and it may well be that in the high pressured environment of a hung parliament, the underlying forces driving the parties apart are counteracted, at least in part, by other, more immediate factors which conspire to push them together."

But those centrifugal forces should not be underestimated, The CentreForum report goes on to outline some of the key policy differences between the parties on the economy, the environment, as well as on security, home affairs and immigration. Then there are the non-policy issues, including a history of mistrust, the different cultures within the two parties, as well as electoral imperatives. The last point is key - for as long as the electoral success of each party depends on the failure of the other, co-operation will be hard to establish.

But for clues as to what Clegg would do in the event of a hung parliament, the CentreForum’s report is required reading.