Nathan Jones (@n_b_jones) suggests that the Lib Dems need to do some serious soul-searching if they want to retain their seat at the table in 2015…
It’s only Wednesday morning, and it’s already been a difficult week for the Liberal Democrats. On Monday night Nick Clegg said Labour has ‘changed’, intimating that a Lib-Lab coalition may be back on the table for 2015, and found himself rebuffed in dramatic fashion (£) by Ed Miliband and the Labour leadership. Labour sources, perhaps buoyed by a bump in YouGov’s lastest polling, responded by briefing on the resources being ‘poured’ into Clegg’s Sheffield Hallam constituency in a bid to unseat him.
This latest episode of future coalition partner not-so-touchy-feeliness is perhaps unremarkable, but Clegg’s misery was added to by The Times (£) this morning, who reported that the Lib Dems are ‘”stress-testing” the party’s policies to ensure that they either fit with Labour or the Conservatives’.
While it is hardly news that the Lib Dems are playing for a second coalition in 2015, news of an apolitical campaign platform will not be music to the ears of Liberal voters, many of whom are struggling to muster the same level of enthusiasm as 2010 in wake of the compromises of coalition that the last four years have brought.
Furthermore, such a strategy could easily be seen as contradicting a recently avowed Lib Dem policy of ‘differentiation’ from the Tories in the run up to the election. Policy differentiation is a must for Clegg and co. but not if they differ only in a lack of clear policy positions.
While the prospect of another coalition still looms large as we move towards the next election, the outlook for whatever configuration may occur is looking far from harmonious. Voters on all sides appear disillusioned by a perceived failure of governments to follow through on campaign pledges, and may be hoping for a majority of whichever stripe. Moreover, a Lib-Lab deal seems unlikely given recent reports that the electoral maths is unworkable, and that Labour may be planning for a minority government in the event of a hung parliament.
In order to be in with a chance of regaining the votes lost since 2010, the Lib Dems need to realise why polling suggests that their supporters may abandon them at the next election. Avoiding taking positions on key issues cannot continue to be their default position. To survive, the Lib Dems need to figure out what sort of party they want to be – and soon.