The Lib Dems must resist a pact with the Tories

The danger is that the party will get dragged into answering questions about process not policy.

For the past 30 years, nothing has been more tedious for Lib Dems than the question "Which way will your party lean in a hung parliament scenario" – just as tedious as the answer: "Depends on the electoral outcome." Which, by the way, in the end it did.

Well, now there is a new tedious question for Lib Dems – "When are you going to merge or have an electoral pact with the Tories?" – fuelled in the past 24 hours by Michael Gove suggesting it would be "wise" to vote Lib Dem in areas where the Tories are weak.

Is it because as a nation we are desperate for neatness: right or wrong, red or blue, good or evil? Sometimes it seems that the desire for a two-dimensional explanation to everything, particularly in the broadcast media, means that every square peg has to be forced into that round hole.

If you believe in PR, if you believe in pluralism, ultimately you have to believe it is possible to have a choice for the electorate that moves beyond Labour or Conservative. You believe that parties can work together but stand alone. Our neighbours in Scotland and Wales – indeed, in the rest of Europe – understand this, so why does it remain such a stumbling block here?

It is not just the media. I fear that many Tories don't really get it either. Hence the noises off from people such as John Major about electoral agreements. To a person, Lib Dems recoil in horror at this idea. To any old-timers who recall the nightmare of seat-by-seat negotiations between the SDP and the Liberals, it is a living hell.

It makes me despair, because once again the danger is that Lib Dems will get dragged into answering questions about process not policy for the rest of the parliament. I hope they resist.

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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn hammers David Cameron on green energy – but skips Syria

In a low-key exchange ahead of the Autumn Statement, the Labour leader covered two areas where the government is vulnerable: renewable energy and women's refuges. However, he failed to mention Syria and the Russian plane shot down by Turkey.

When PMQs precedes an Autumn Statement or Budget it is usually a low-key affair, and this one was no different. But perhaps for different reasons than the usual – the opposition pulling its punches to give room for hammering the government on the economy, and the Prime Minister saving big announcements and boasts for his Chancellor.

No, Jeremy Corbyn's decision to hold off on the main issue of the day – air strikes in Syria and the Russian military jet shot down by Turkey – was tactical. He chose to question the government on two areas where it is vulnerable: green energy and women's refuges closing due to cuts. Both topics on which the Tories should be ashamed of their record.

This also allowed him to avoid the subject that is tearing the Middle East – and the Labour party – apart: how to tackle Isis in Syria. Corbyn is seen as soft on defence and has been criticised for being too sympathetic to Russia, so silence on both the subject of air strikes and the Russian plane was his best option.

The only problem with this approach is that the government's most pressing current concern was left to the SNP leader Angus Robertson, who asked the Prime Minister about the dangers of action from the air alone in Syria. A situation that frames Labour as on the fringe of debates about foreign and defence policy. Luckily for Corbyn, this won't really matter as no one pays attention to PMQs pre-Autumn Statement.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.