Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Can the Government Keep It All Together for Three More Years? Columnist

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Can the Government Keep It All Together for Three More Years? Columnist

Article excerpt

Byline: Paul Linford

LAST week I suggested that the key strategic task facing the Liberal Democrats as they gather for their spring conference in Gateshead was to find a way of winning back the support that has deserted them since they joined the Coalition in 2010.

And doubtless there will be plenty of ideas floating back and forth at The Sage this weekend as to exactly how they should go about it.

They could, as some argue, stop the Health and Social Care Bill in its tracks. The Guardian commentator Polly Toynbee is among those warning this week that if they don't take what may be their last opportunity to do this, it will seal their fate as a party. Or they could, as Business Secretary Vince Cable has suggested, use their influence to help shape this month's Budget, taking everyone earning less than pounds 10,000 a year out of tax and introducing a 'mansion tax' for the super-rich.

Their leader, Nick Clegg, certainly wants to see the party getting on the front foot and proclaiming its successes in the Coalition rather than apologising for being part of it.

"Now it is time to move on. To stop justifying being in government and start advertising being in government.

To stop lamenting what might have been and start celebrating what is. To stop defending our decisions and start shouting our achievements from the rooftops," he said yesterday. But whichever way they turn, will it make the slightest difference to the party's electoral prospects? Well, if history is any guide, no. The plain facts of the matter are that involvement in a coalition is almost always disastrous for the smaller party, whatever political achievements it manages to extract from it.

The most recent example was the Lib-Lab pact in 1977/78. This was perhaps the most enlightened and humane period of government in my lifetime, but it still ended up doing the then Liberal Party terrible damage.

Far from emerging strengthened, their vote went down at the subsequent general election in 1979 and several of their most high-profile MPs, including the deputy leader John Pardoe, lost their seats. …

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