As we all mull over the scenarios that could arise after an election it is time to debate what the party's approach should be. I fear 'ex cathedra' statement from the Leader's bunker. I have a couple of matter to start the ball rolling.
Way back at the dawn of time when Jeremy Thorpe was Leader and David Steel (to whom we shall return) was Chief Whip, I recall much discussion about under what conditions we would form a coalition and it what circumstances 'supply and confidence' would be the best option.
In 2010 we didn't have that discussion. Chris Rennard did try, and Paddy did listen but sadly Clegg did not. Back in the 70's I recally the view was that a small party -even with a big electoral mandate-should not venture into a coalition. Then, as now, it is perfectly possible that we could land up with the balance of power and only have 30 seats. Unlike post '74 the chance of us landing up with 25+% of the vote are diminishingly small.
Having observed the present coalition and the way the party has failed to maintain a separate identity with getting on for double that number of MP's I cannot see it is possible to maintain an idependent party in a coalition with so few MP's. All our reps would need to be involved in the government and nobody could speak for the party. The near wipe out of the party in great swathes of the country would be worse. Thank in large part to Clegg's poor leadership-especially in the early days-it would be hard to justify wielding great influence on a government with only 10% of the vote. We have failed with more than double that.
My conclusion is that we need to look at 'Supply and Confidence' much more carefully as both Chris Rennard and David Howarth have suggested. No Ministerial cars, no Rose garden and no tuition fees, but with a clearer focus on the long term interests of the party-and needless to say I think the Country benifits from the survival of a Liberal Party.
David Steel has made much the same point in his radio interview with Peter Hennessy
Lord Steel was also critical of the way his party handled coalition negotiations after the 2010 general election, suggesting the option of doing a deal with Labour should have been explored a bit more before a deal was struck with the Conservatives.
"It was done with unseemly haste," he said of the discussions, which took place over five days.
Steel goes on to discuss the second point that I think we have not debated properly-namely to whom do we speak. Clegg rather bounced us into the imprecise formula of the 'biggest party' first. It raises the issue what if the party with the larger number of MP's has a smaller popular vote than the lead opposition party?
"But it was also done the wrong way round by talking to David Cameron first and, in fact, the incumbent prime minister should have been talked to first.
"I think if that had happened, Gordon Brown would have done his statesmanlike thing and come out and said he was resigning as leader of the Labour Party much earlier and the party would have had much more clout with the Conservative Party because they would have been seen to be talking to their more natural allies first."
Now I do understand that Steel is being overtly political here and I agree with him. We should be in politics to achieve political ends. The largest party is a foolish formual. If in the Netherlands the PVV landed up as the largest party (and in 2010 they were not that far away) would we expect D66 to sit down with them? In Brirain 2015 with UKIP forcing the already extreme Tory party further towards a right wing anti immigrant, anti EU, neoliberal poistion surley they would be beyond the pale?