The Liberal Democrats have been my main political opponents for the whole of my political life. I'd always seen them as being an opportunistic 'protest' party, happy to stand on the touchline, shying away from meaningful action. Its easy just going whichever way the current of public opinion is flowing. But last May, Nick Clegg persuaded his party to do something different. He persuaded them to join the fray by forming a Coalition Government with the Conservatives. This was a really big deal for the Lib Dems and the Conservatives - taken for the good of the country. OK, so Nick Clegg hopes that it will enable him to go into the next election as an experienced 'Party of Government' - but it was an almighty risk to take.
The problem for the Lib Dems is that some of the policies advocated before the last election are just not sustainable in Government, and the reality has forced change. We inherited a UK economy which was in a desperate state. There is simply no money. The national wallet is empty. So first 'difficult' issue was the increase in VAT. Those Lib Dem election posters featuring a 20% VAT 'Bombshell' were excruciatingly embarrassing. But they bit the bullet. New nuclear power stations was another 'difficult' issue, particularly since Chris Hulne is the responsible Minister. Government cannot allow the lights to go out - so another bullet was bit. And now we have the tuition fees row, where the Lib Dems internal policy processes are causing problems for Clegg/Cable/Alexander. In the end, I'll be surprised if any of the Lib Dem cabinet members fail to support the Tuition Fees changes on Thursday night. But for now, we'll have to wait and see.
Reality is that being in Government is bl**** tough. It sometimes means having to face up to angry constituents and say No. I never thought that the Lib Dems would have the b**** - but so far they have in spades. The last Lib Dem leader to wield real power in Britain was David Lloyd George, and they just don't come any tougher or wily than him. Could it be that Nick Clegg has more in common with the charismatic Welsh wizard than the love of 30 women (or thereabouts!).