As the AV Referendum nears, both sides of the Coalition are beginning to gnash their teeth and growl across the wide pit that is government. So simpler would it have been if this was a Coalition between the Lib Dems and Labour. In such an instance, the Labour rebels would have been hushed up, turning the divide into a simple government vs opposition debate. Instead the Coalition is split along party lines, with a rather confused Labour party joining both groups, like teenagers trying to start a scuffle in the playground. It is a cluster-fuck of epic proportions.
It is perhaps the unpredictable nature of this referendum that has everyone on edge. The polls seem to fluctuate quite dramatically depending upon who you ask. One minute the ‘Yes’ group are flagging, the next they’re pulling into the lead. On the day it’s all going to come down to who can get their vote out, and with so many Lib Dem voters disaffected, this could dramatically hamper the ‘yes’ campaign.
Rather more predictable is the local elections. Expect a slaughter of the Liberal Democrats, big gains for Labour, and a Conservative Party holding firm, mainly because the Tory voters have nowhere else to go. The week following the inevitable disaster for the Lib Dems is going to be followed with countless interviews with disgruntled ex-liberal councillors blaming Nick Clegg for it all. I have no doubt that there will be many calls for his head and the end to the coalition, but this would be a dire mistake.
Nick Clegg will not survive another general election. This is true, yet it would be so even if he wasn’t unfairly carrying the blame for every unpopular decision the government’s taken. Being the smaller party, the Lib Dems were ultimately the ones who had to make a choice to join the coalition or not. The Conservatives pulled over in their white fiesta and said, “I’ve got sweets in here if you’d like to get in?” and the Lib Dems were the ones who had to decide whether or not to climb on-board.
This pact makes any electoral campaign difficult. Do you hammer the coalition partner, or side with them? The idea of Nick Clegg and David Cameron taking bites out of each other in a televised debate is preposterous. The only sensible option for a smaller party facing such circumstances is to formally end the Coalition in the run up to the general election, elect a new leader and campaign as an individual entity. Sleepwalking into an election as the junior in a Coalition could easily see them getting dumped by the Tories, the moment they secure a majority.
Would this mean that the Lib Dems would be distancing themselves from the Coalition? Certainly not. Such a process is all part of the reality of Coalitions, and the Lib Dems should be proud of what they’ve gained from such a weak hand. At the moment the public and the Labour party don’t understand how coalitions work and it is the duty of the Liberals to show them.
The only other option available would be to merge the parties, and that would be very messy indeed….