Tuesday 17 September 2013

The Coming LibDem/Tory War

Believe it or not, there is one time of the year the political commentariat are more insufferable than the nonsense of the silly season. And that's when it's Liberal Democrat conference. And it is painful, I mean, really painful. Let's look at the exhibits.

Underneath the demand-destroying cuts and general laissez-faire attitude to economics, Vince Cable has been hinting that he's a bit of a lefty (again). There are "red lines" he tells us. Matters of principle that would have him up sticks from the cabinet should the government do especially appalling things. I wonder what they are. His department and Vince's Tory colleagues in the treasury have sat on their hands for three years, allowing untold numbers of firms to go to the wall and see good, public sector occupations replaced by zero hour, low paid, and precarious jobs in their hundreds of thousands. He's also happily gone along with attacks on the poor so vindictive, so utterly vile that even the UN have condemned them.

A less tarnished figure is LibDem president Tim Farron. Like Vince, he's out on manoeuvres. He's been burnishing his left credentials too, and has cast a few sultry glances at Ed Miliband. It is so stunningly obvious that he's angling for the LibDem leadership and the deputy PM slot under a Labour-led coalition government it's bordering on the indecent. Still, there's nothing wrong with ambition. And it's entirely appropriate our Tim desires to be a number two.

And then there's good old Calamity himself. Nick Robinson's interview with Nick Clegg boils down to who the LibDems want to get in bed with come 2015, should Britain's archaic electoral system deliver up another hung parliament. Is that a little hint he's leaning toward Dave? Or could it indicate he favours Ed Miliband?

Mind-numbing. You really have to be paid to write about LibDem intrigues at length. But there is something about the current LibDem/Tory relationship that I don't think has yet been fully appreciated by Westminster watchers.

General elections everywhere and always involve political parties setting out their stall, attacking opponents and defending their period in government. The problem for our coalition parties is one inadvertently highlighted by my Tory Twitter friend, Angela Neptustar. The LibDems will lay credit for something that is popular, like today's announcement of free school meals for our youngest pupils, and the Tories will dispute it. The Tories will claim that a particular policy is theirs while the LibDems insist otherwise. Likewise with awful policies - one party will denounce it as an exigency of coalition, and the other will blame their erstwhile partners for dark deeds done. Fun and games.

What this means for 2015 is the introduction of a new logic of competition between the two parties. They will be forced to defend their records, as par the course, but also have a perceived electoral interest in squabbling with each other about who was responsible for what. This could lead to rows no one cares about easily derailing their campaign timetables and making them look even more out-of-touch then they actually are. Which is some feat.

Of course, this is only a plausible possibility. Politics comes with no iron certainties. The Tories and LibDems may run properly disciplined election campaigns on the basis of some informal non-aggression treaty. But it's difficult to see how intense wrangles over who-did-what won't occur. And when they do, it will be to their mutual ruin.


Social Scientist said...

I think with the home of former Lib Dem voters not particularly clear, and the way UKIP votes fall - indeed even where they choose to stand - still unclear I think it is fair to say nobody knows what is going to happen at the next election even slightly.

With this in mind, unless the delegates actually voted to have Nick Clegg's arse painted green on the platform, nothing they say or do at their conference is going to have the slightest impact on whether or not they have any power come 2015 or not.

Phil said...

I agree with your latter point, certainly. I'd go so far to say that if they dumped Clegg their vote would remain stubbornly low. It's not a matter of misleadership but of real brand damage.

Regards UKIP, we can't say for certain which way they will break. But we can make educated guesses, and all the data shows they disproportionately steel votes from Tories - and almost half of them say they aren't going back.