Wednesday, September 21, 2011

 

Lib Dems Can Veto but not Initiate

We learn from journalists at the Lib Dem conference that they are in a form which belies their awful poll position and the terrible year they have just suffered. Jackie Ashley described how they seem to love being in power, smugly congratulating themselves on their 18 ministers, four of them in the Cabinet. Clegg closed the conference with a well received speech today and most delegates will have returned home with a warm kind of feeling that, despite the euro-crisis and the faltering economy, things are not too bad at all really.

Simon Jenkins' piece today might even have convinced some of them that the corner has been turned. Jenkins, who back in May 2010 was sure Clegg had destroyed his party, now is full of praise:

There is no argument. The Liberal Democrats and their leader, Nick Clegg, have played a political blinder this past 18 months. They have kept a British coalition government in being against all odds, with no sign of it collapsing in the near future. Nor have the Lib Dems just sustained a regime, as they did some governments, Tory and Labour, in the 1920s and 1970s. They have palpably had a restraining influence on it. They deserve recognition at least for this.

But I wonder if that inner warmth is justified and whether it might not shade very quickly into ashes should that double dip recession roll along out of the future sometime in the new year? If that happens the government will be in a parlous position and, as Lib Dem grandee Lord Oakeshott commented, both parties will get 'slaughtered'. But besides that I didn't see any rabbits pulled out of the hat to please delegates by their ever so powerful Cabinet galacticos.

The brutal truth is that the lib Dems seem to forget at times is that they are junior partners in a coalition. The Conservatives occupy Downing St and the Treasury and have the vast majority of MPs. Lib Dems can be a 'restraining influence' as Jenkins observes but that's about it. Theirs is a moderating negative role; they cannot initiate policy on important matters but are forced to acquiesce in Tory policies. Meanwhile, Clegg's spouting contumely at Labour, especially the 'back room boy' figures of the two Eds will not assist them if they ever need to build new coalition bridges with the party of which they were once to the left.

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