Fraser Nelson Fraser Nelson

It’s time to end the Liberal Democrats’ Fish Slapping Dance

Danny Alexander offers his ‘dead body’ to stop a non-existent tax cut. David Laws accuses Michael Gove of thwarting some imagined plan on school inspectors. Each day seems to bring a fresh attempt at Liberal Democrats finding a new reason to thwack the Conservatives – while the Tories cheerfully take it. Britain’s government is starting to look less like coalition and more like the Fish Slapping Dance from Monty Python (above) and in my Telegraph column today, I ask what the point is.

I’ve come to respect Nick Clegg, and although CoffeeHousers will disagree, I regard him as an unusually decent politician who had wanted to build his opposition-loving rabble into a principled party championing British liberalism. ‘We’ve lost the left-wing half of our party,’ one of his advisers explained to me after the election. ‘They have gone. Like a continental shelf. We’re never getting them back.’ But at least, ran the argument, thanks to this fixed-term parliament act the LibDems had five years to rebuild from the centre. So how did that work out? The graph, below:

Clegg’s South African strategist has run the figures, and told him this won’t work. His only hope is to do a reverse ferret and try to get that ‘continental shelf’ back. The only chance of keeping the seats is to go on bended knee to win back those voters who defected to Labour. So this means beating up Tories. And picking fights over bizarre issues – the part-time board of Ofsted, whether councils could add a further £7 a year to their local tax. Whether to break a soft-boiled egg at sharp or blunt end. That kind of thing.

You can see the logic. Clegg is in a panic: as Andrew  Adonis observed in his account of coalition negotitions, the Lib Dems are ‘a small party preoccupied with survival.’

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