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Daily View: Lib Dems' role in the coalition

Clare Spencer | 10:08 UK time, Monday, 20 September 2010

Nick Clegg


Anticipating Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg's speech at his party conference, commentators discuss what they see as the party's biggest challenge.

In his blog Political Betting Mike Smithson forecasts what will be popular in Nick Clegg's speech:

"What's likely to produce the loudest applause during Nick Clegg's big speech this afternoon will be when he makes clear that the coalition deal is for one parliament only and that there will be no pact with the Tories at the next election.
"For the prospect that something might just be on the agenda has been simmering since last Monday following the publication of a book in which the idea is floated by rookie Tory MP and close Cameron aide, Nick Boles."

In the Independent Mary Ann Sieghart dismisses any notion that the Lib Dems might split from the Tories before their term is up:

"If what the Government is doing is so unpopular that the smaller party can't bear it, the chances are that the Lib Dems will be doing very badly in the polls. Why precipitate another election, in that case, only to lose half your seats? Staying the course gives both parties in the Coalition the best chance to wait for the economy - and their popularity - to pick up. And for the Lib Dems, it gives them the political credibility of five years at the heart of government."

Bill Emmott says in the Times [subscription required] that coalition will be torn apart by a May referendum on electoral reform unless Nick Clegg uses the Lib Dem party conference to defuse the issue:

"The time bomb could be defused if Mr Clegg were to act now. Emerging later this week from his party conference, he could put on a dignified and noble air. He could announce that he has sensed the uncertainty and unhappiness in his party about this core issue of electoral reform, and at the prospects of fighting a referendum in these circumstances. More time for reflection is required: a cross-party commission, including senior figures, would now be formed to debate the issue and to come up with an agreed proposal, for a referendum some time in 2012."

Former chief executive of the Liberal Democrats, Chris Rennard says in the Financial Times [registration required] that Nick Clegg has the tricky job of showing that the Tory-Lib Dem team works well while assuring party members that the Lib Dems are still distinctive from the Tories:

"Nick Clegg's first priority has to be to show that the coalition works - even with unlikely partners - while maintaining the party's distinctiveness. If he cannot demonstrate measures of independence (as sometimes appeared to be the case when Paddy Ashdown and Tony Blair were flirting over a Lib-Lab coalition), the Lib Dems will appear to lose their raison d'etre, and with it the level of public support needed to thrive.
"Here the party faces the familiar problem that it is most distinctive in areas that simply are not of great interest to the public. The proposed alternative vote system, for instance, makes it easier to get rid of bad MPs and bad governments, because opposition party votes are no longer split in general elections. But this logic takes some explaining to people who feel that they have more immediate needs, and the policy is often deliberately misrepresented by self-interested MPs."

Fraser Nelson predicts in the News of the World that Nick Clegg won't mind annoying the left wing of his party later today:

"He's justifying cuts, backing tough-love welfare reform and warning his party they've no future as left-wing protesters. A party used to waffle and veggie-light policy is about to see their leader go on stage wearing more red meat than Lady Gaga. So what's Clegg up to? The answer is he's playing a long game - and wants to take his party through a painful first stage."

In the Guardian Jackie Ashley thinks the Lib Dems will be able to shape the coalition more than is generally assumed:

"They have taken the huge (wrong) decision to go with the timing and scale of the Tory cuts agenda, which will reach far deeper than simply workless families on benefits. In the few days Clegg is spending at the conference, defending and explaining that decision is the biggest job he has. It overshadows everything else.
"But on other issues they can change the narrative. One example is Vince Cable's attack on the immigration cap, supported by Clegg. Another is a crackdown on wealthy tax-dodgers, announced today and intended to take some of the edge off the regressive effect of early cuts. But perhaps the most interesting example is Trident and nuclear strategy."

Links in full

Mike Smithson | Political Betting | Is the Boles book the fox that can Clegg shoot?
Mary Ann Sieghart | Independent | This Coalition is going to last and last
Bill Emmott | Times | Tick, tick, tick: voting reform is a time bomb
Chris Rennard | Financial Times | Lib Dems must stress where they stand out
Fraser Nelson | News of the World | Gutsy Clegg puts his troops to test
Jackie Ashley | Guardian | Clegg could have more clout in government than the caricaturists realise

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