Peter Hoskin

How tightly are the Lib Dems bound to the Tories?

How tightly are the Lib Dems bound to the Tories?
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A thoughtful and thought-provoking column from Danny Finkelstein (£) in the Times this morning, which is well worth a trip beyond the paywall to read. In it, he makes a persuasive point: that, despite their plunging poll ratings, the Lib Dems aren't doing too shabbily at all. After all, who, looking back at the party's recent history, would have thought they would be in power in 2010? That they are suggests, in Danny's words, that "this is not not the bottom for the Lib Dems, it is the top."

From there, an important point is made against those who still contend that the Lib Dems would have been better off shacking up up with Labour in May, that it would have been a more natural fit. Here it is:

"…the price of joining Labour might well have been greater. In May Labour lost the election, had an incredibly unpopular and uncooperative leader, and couldn't have formed a majority government even with the Lib Dems. And the Tories were making a tremendous offer. If Mr Clegg had gone in with Labour in these circumstances, it is hard to see any circumstances in which he would not have gone in with Labour. And if there were to be no circumstances in which the Liberal Democrats would go in with anyone but Labour, what would be the point of them as an independent party? ….  What Labour was offering the Lib Dems wasn't a higher poll rating, it was extinction."

For starters, a yellow-red blend would rest on a huge range of political changes: from the appointment of a Labour leader who can do business with the Lib Dems, to a sweeping retreat from the broadly rightwards direction that Nick Clegg has taken his party in the past few years. It would probably even require Clegg's removal as party leader.  

None of these changes are inevitable, or even easy – but even if they could be brought about, then consider the position that the Lib Dems would be in then. Having spent months, maybe years, putting in place a radical programme of spending cuts and a retrenchment of the state, they would be joining forces with a party which more or less opposes them. The inconsistency would be damning, and no doubt deeply unattractive in the eyes of a public who might rightly ask: what do the Lib Dems believe? What is the point of them?

Of course, the Lib Dems could sit as they generally have done, a free-floating party in between the Big Two. But, internally, even Clegg is warning against that move. As Danny puts it towards the end of his article, "they can't go back". Even though there will undoubtedly be tensions and flashpoints ahead, that bond with the Tories could be stronger than it sometimes appears.

Alex adds his thoughts here.