Friday, 8 February 2008

There's Nothing Easy about Equidistance..

The Conservative activists who dominate these days have tried to make capital out of this article from

My first thought is that most of them haven't bothered to read it. They've read the headline and jumped to the wrong conclusion as they usually do. Let's look at what Nick Clegg actually says:

"I don't care who produces a more liberal document for Government" - now if that's not a statement of equidistance then I don't know what is. The problem for the Tories is that Sir Menzies Campbell made life easier for them with his speech at Harrogate which, although carefully crafted, was spun by the Tories as a commitment to support Labour in the event of a Hung Parliament.

Now, Nick Clegg has come along and equidistance is back in town. Now, of course, both Labour and the Conservatives will spend the next two years arguing that a Lib Dem vote will let the other side in. We also know that this won't be easy for the Liberal Democrats to refute but the Clegg line which is basically "show me how bad you want me" is the only way.

Strategically and tactically, it is impossible for Nick Clegg to "sell" an illiberal vision to his Party by which I mean that if both Labour AND the Conservatives offer a fundamentally illiberal Queen's Speech, they can hardly expect Lib Dem support. The "mood music" from Project Cameron has been of course to stress Dave's "liberal conservative" credentials and Cameron has been able to "talk the liberal talk" but he's going to have to offer a whole lot more than platitudes if he wants a deal.

But Clegg's problem is, as I have argued elsewhere, is that IF the Conservatives are the largest party, he won't need Clegg or anyone else. He will be safe while Labour begins its process of internal recrimination and re-organisation.

IF Labour are the largest party, Nick Clegg's challenge will be to join the Conservatives in the "no" lobby and see what will happen. There are two scenarios - one is another election, the other is a Conservative minority Government relying on Lib Dem support. It is this latter option that Clegg is playing for but it's a high risk game. Knocking over an illiberal Labour Queen's Speech would be one thing but would the Conservative alternative be any more palatable and would Clegg then be willing to risk a second General Election ?

That's the thing with equidistance - no one ever said it was easy...

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