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The Liberal Democrats: a divorce from the Conservatives or a secret hope to reconcile differences for another five years?

Tuesday, October 07, 2014


The Liberal Democrats can rightly be annoyed with their Conservative coalition partners. The Conservatives are after all guilty of ripping off a little bit of political copyright.

When David Cameron stood up last week and said that a future conservative government would raise the income tax threshold to £12,500 and that the Conservatives had delivered in government on this issue you could almost hear Nick Clegg explode. This was a flagship policy for the Liberal Democrats. The Conservatives have stolen it and slapped them around in the process.

But the Liberal Democrats have been done up like a kipper (not a UKIPper) before by their more experienced conservative play mates, so they should have known better. Remember the trebling of tuition fees? A conservative idea, but who had to announce it, sell it to students and become electorally tainted forever? Yep, you’ve guessed it the Liberal Democrats.

They need to find their place with the electorate again; and quick

The timing of the Scottish referendum meant that the Lib Dems had to go last in the conference season instead of their traditional role of kicking off the main party get togethers. Had Clegg been first up perhaps he could have cornered the tax policy market – instead the annual gathering of Lib Dems have been reduced to spilling out their venom on the Conservatives at every opportunity. Such venom that you may rightly wonder if the coalition can carry on for the next seven months.

The Liberal Democrats certainly have a big decision to make. Their involvement in the coalition has been the key factor in their electoral meltdown. They have barely averaged more than 6% in the national opinion polls and their actual showing in local and European elections in recent years has not been much better.

Clegg is desperately trying to position himself as the brake on damaging policies drafted by the Conservatives and a brake in any coalition with Labour. Clegg is also championing himself as the man who will protect our civil liberties, our membership of the EU, our environment and someone who will save us from misguided military adventures. The problem is no one seems to agree with Nick anymore.

Nick Clegg said on the Andrew Marr show on Sunday that he did not believe the opinion polls. Well Nick, you had better start believing, because as it stands you are about to lead your party over a very big political cliff and you have a much better chance of rebuilding your party in a coalition than in the political wilderness as potentially the fourth largest political party.

But is everything, as it seems?

It could be that all the venom aimed at the Conservatives, whether Theresa May, George Osborne or Chris Grayling is part of a well staged scene in the political play that is the coalition, to the point that Dave and Nick are planning and engineering another five years together after the next election.

Could Cameron's Putinesque style annexation of the Lib Dems tax threshold policy be the first point of concession to them in the new coalition agreement? If the polls are bad for Clegg, they are not much better for Cameron. The Conservatives at this stage are not likely to secure the 39/40% they need for an overall majority with UKIP breathing down their neck and the swing voters are still undecided about Labour. So another hung parliament is not out of the question.

What we have to work out is whether the Lib Dem venom being spat out over the Conservatives in Glasgow is a signal that the coalition is beyond repair and the Lib Dems will go their own way or is this part of a carefully laid out plan by the Conservatives and the Lib Dems to come together in a second coalition.

Well only they know, and they’re not going to tell us. But political rhetoric is not always what it seems and in the event of a hung parliament, Cameron would rather deal with the Lib Dems than UKIP and his own unpredictable right wing.

As for Clegg, he knows a bloody nose is coming but if he can cling on to 20 seats he can unite in a common interest with Cameron, live to fight another day and re-build his party in government. 

And what is this common interest? Power of course. I’m sure both Cameron and Clegg can't bear to give it up.


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