When Norman Lamb warned his fellow Liberal Democrats against doing a deal with Labour, there was no uproar at the party conference. Instead, the private assessment was that Lamb was right that a coalition with Labour would be far more problematic—and far less preferable—to a second one with the Conservatives. There are three reasons advanced for not going in with Labour, as I set out in the column this week:
1). It would make the Liberal Democrats ‘the nasty party’
In coalition with the Tories, the Liberal Democrats’ role is to be a softening influence. They get to warn against spending cuts going too far, rail against tax cuts for the rich and demand they go to the low-paid instead, and defend environmentalism. By contrast, in coalition with Labour, the Liberal Democrats would have to be the fiscal disciplinarians.
This would give the party a far worse identity crisis than this coalition has. Can you imagine the Liberal Democrats turning up at conference boasting about how they’d blocked the introduction of a National Care Service because it was expensive?
2). They would lose seats
Going from coalition with the Tories to coalition with Labour would be a recipe for going from 56 seats to 17 seats in two elections, warns one hardened Lib Dem campaigner. Their fear is that a coalition with Labour would have the same devastating effect on MPs in Tory areas that the current coalition has had on its MPs in the north. By contrast, the seats that the party keeps in 2015 are, by definition, ones that can be held while in coalition with the Tories.