Alex Massie

It’s Time to Hug a Lib Dem

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Ben Brogan says that all the talk of the Tories offering three cabinet positions to the Liberal Democrats is premature. I dare say it is. Nevertheless this is a blog and speculation is good for blogging. I rather think we'd have a better* government if Nick Clegg was Home Secretary, David Laws put in charge of Welfare Reform and Lord Ashdown sent to the Ministry of Defence.

This latter clearly won't happen but, whatever you think of his past, Ashdown is an asset who ought to be used by the new government - even if we end up with a minority Tory ministry.

But the Tories ought not to be afraid of coalition. They have more experience of it than any other British party and have never been damaged by it. On the contrary, it's Liberals who have been hurt by alliances with the Conservatives  - a fact that some of those close to Clegg will doubtless remember.

There's much to be said for the stability of a formal deal, rather than an informal arrangement that could collapse without warning at any time. And again, the greater danger is to Clegg not Cameron but can Nicky Boy really walk away from a deal when it's presented as a Your Country Calls moment? If he does he will be hammered and hammered bad at the next election.

And it's not as though the Labour party can offer very much on Electoral Reform. Clegg has already rejected switching to the Alternative Vote and it's not at all clear that A Lab-Lib partnership could get any referendum bill through the commons. Good luck persuading Tom Harris, David Cairns et al to vote for that.

This, plus the obvious fact that holding out for voting reform is just the same old politics-as-usual Clegg spent the entire campaign decrying, all conspires to weaken his position.

Nevertheless, the government would be strengthened by the presence of the Orange Bookers and so too would prospects for liberal reform and the repeal of some of Labour's more egregious legislation, not least in but not limited to, the field of civil liberties. Indeed, the potential for the Lib Dems to keep the Conservatives honest on that front is enough justification itself for a formal coalition deal.

Cameron has the upper hand in these negotiations  - not least because hugging the Lib Dems strengthens the Conservative position at the next election - but that's also why he should be generous, not stingy with Clegg. It will pay dividends.

*I'd also like to keep Lord Adonis at Transport and, mischievously, send Lord Mandelson back to Northern Ireland. But that's just day-dreaming sillyness.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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