Sunday, March 10, 2013

Tories should look more kindly on Lib Dems.

Its probably because my experience of Lib Dems at a personal level is positive that I was comfortable with the idea of a Lib Dem/Conservative Coalition being formed in 2010. I had great respect for two of my predecessors as Montgomeryshire MPs, who were also good friends - the late Lord (Emlyn) Hooson and Lord (Alex) Carlile. I always took notice of what Emlyn said, and I still talk through some issues with Alex before settling on an opinion. More controversially, it seems I'm one of the few who have some admiration for Nick Clegg. Like David Cameron, he has a very difficult hand to play. They've both shown the skill and tenacity needed to herd cats and nail jelly to the wall at the same time. So it will come as no surprise that I'm not overly aghast at the thought of another coalition post 2015.

Of course I would prefer that my Conservative Party come cruising home as runaway winners in the next election. Even though there are over two years to go until the election, the polls are not offering much encouragement that this happy conclusion will come to pass. It inevitably leads to tentative consideration about whom we might climb into bed with come May 2015. There seem to be two possible candidates, Ukip and the Lib Dems - though we do not know whether Ukip's popularity will carry through to 2015 in sufficient strength to win seats. My instinct tells me that Ukip's surge will last until mid 2014, but fall back after that. We will have to wait and see about that. Anyway, this same instinct is telling me that the Lib Dems will remain a force in the House of Commons, and if my party fails to win an overall majority, will be the only potential partner. The choice again will be do we soldier on as a minority Gov't or enter coalition. In those circumstances I'd support giving it another go.

Of course the next two years are not going to be easy. Nick Clegg will have to show a lot of yellow stocking to his fractious party, some of whom have not come to terms with the responsibility that comes with governing. And David Cameron will have to show some blue stocking to his troops, some of whom do not know what playing for the team means. And on both sides there are 'players' positioning themselves in preparation for the event of defeat. And there's the tearoom tittle-tattle that keeps the keyboards of James Forsyth and Tim Montgomerie in business. But so far the Coalition has delivered more than could have been expected. The Lib Dems signed up to big cheques in the Coalition Agreement. And they are still signing cheques. Last week it was 'secret courts'. Danny Alexander, David Laws, Steve Webb (in particular) - and Vince Cable is much more sound than he would have us think. My message to my colleagues is to look at the price the Lib Dems have paid and think about the alternatives - pre 2015 and after 2015.

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