Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Coalition government, the first 266 days

If, about a year ago, you'd made any Lib Dem party member an offer that in Feb 2011 the party would be nearly 9 months into a coalition government, they'd have bitten off your hand. Of course people should be careful what they wish for, because the reality wasn't quite as expected. The "natural" partnership (Lib/Lab) just didn't have the support it needed, so we ended up with a rather unexpected twist leading many to accuse the party leadership of selling out, propping up the Tories or just generally being opportunist blaggers who couldn't resist power once they had a sniff of it.

On the other hand the party leadership would have us all believe that everything is great, the coalition is a stable and powerful force for good in this country, and that Conservative policies are being seasoned with a good dose of Lib Dem sodium chloride.

I, like many other Lib Dems from what I can tell, are still in "wait and see" mode as to how this will all turn out. I don't think it's worth commentating on whether or not the current fiscal strategy is all to the good - there are strong arguments for and against, and the proof of the pudding will undoubtedly be in whether or not it comes out of the recessional oven all burnt around the edges or not. For the sake of the future of the party, it really better had be OK, because Clegg and co are unlikely to get a second bite of the cherry if things don't turn firmly upwards before the next election.

So where does this leave my own political experiment? I have to say that right now I have no real strong feelings about the party, but I still could not find a better one. I think Labour is now, having started to rally around a new leader, getting to the point where it could become interesting, but they are spending too much time criticising the government for the steps they are taking to get the country out of the recession that happened on their watch. Whether or not the huge deficit is Labour's fault is largely irrelevant - they must now show determination and innovation in order to be credible. The centre-left ground of British politics (and maybe even that dream team coalition with the Lib Dems) awaits them if they do.

Considering the available options after the last election (minority Conservative govt, another general election ot the current arrangement) I think the best choice was made. Whether or not it leaves the LDs able to hold their heads high after will depend on many things, but if they can maintain a distinctive message while keeping credibility in government I think they will achieve more than most commentators expect.