The political world has been transformed by the Liberal Democrat – Conservative Coalition and its arrival in office. Yesterday’s press conference held by Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg showed just how important the relationship between the two leaders is going to be for the long-term stability of the new Government.
The early indications are promising but there will be some very tough decisions to be made and some very difficult days ahead. The decision to hold the coalition together until 2015 is a hugely positive development and while the Westminster and media cynics are still struggling to come to terms with events and suggest the coalition will collapse within a year or two I am much more optimistic.
The forces arranged against the coalition are a disparate bunch of the frustrated and the angry. Elements of the Conservative-supporting media such as the Mail and the Sun and Tory hardliners such as Allister Heath of City AM are finding it difficult to accept that the Conservatives failed to win the election direct and resent having to support a Government with the despised Liberal Democrats sitting round the Cabinet table. In the short-term they might think collapsing the coalition will put the Tories in power but in the medium-term I suspect they will see that the only immediate alternative to supporting the coalition is a Labour Government.
The stench of sour grapes pervades much of the media and the BBC and Sky are al;so struggling to come to terms with the new narrative.
Within the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties, there is some concern. I suspect there will be a tiny vociferous minority of Conservatives, primarily in the media, who will stand opposed to the coalition and leave the party. The Liberal Democrats face a different problem – the potential detractors are more numerous but probably quieter.
As a card-carrying Liberal Democrat, I would merely say that the point of being in politics is to get the things done that we believe in and it doesn’t really matter whether that happens under a Liberal Democrat Government or not. Compromise has had to be made but the Labour option was never a runner – the prospective “progressive” coalition neither had the votes nor, with another unelected Prime Minister, would it have had any real legitimacy. The option of doing nothing was a recipe for instability and the country cannot afford that instability at this time.
Those opposed to the coalition will naturally coalesce around Labour but it remains to be seen what coherent alternative Labour can offer in 2015. By then, the coalition will hopefully have done enough to ensure its continuation.
The next two or three years will be very difficult for the coalition and its constituent elements. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Lib Dems fall to 10% or lower in polls but politics is about staying the course. Indeed, the essence of what has happened in the past few days (whether revolutionary or not) is not only the transformation of the Liberal Democrats into a party of Government but the beginning of the transformation of the Conservative Party and David Cameron has to take a lot of the credit for the pragmatism and realism he has shown.
It wasn’t just about making the Tories electable, it was always about making them relevant and fit for Government. The journey won’t be easy for them either but both Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties are in a period of transition. No one is suggesting the parties will merge in the short-term or even the long-term but the concept of the Conservatives on the centre-right facing two parties on the centre-left is dead. The argument that a vote for the Liberal Democrats is a vote for Labour is also dead.
There are those who fear the Liberal Democrat vote will splinter as the “progressive” side fragments and goes back to Labour but that misses the point. There were, I believe, a significant number of voters who wanted to vote Lib Dem last Thursday but were scared into voting Tory by the media-driven fear of the Liberal Democrats propping up a Labour Government. It is that bloc of voters plus others that is the new prize for the Liberal Democrats.
I’m encouraged by the start of the coalition – there seems genuine goodwill on the part of many of the key players to make it work. The media won’t help – for them, the duopoly was easy and vitriolic attacks on Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats part of the game.
Here’s a newsflash, guys – the game has changed and you’ve not caught up yet.