Will the Lib Dems reach for the eject button?

As Cameron and Clegg relaunch the coalition, the Lib Dems plan an early exit.

Two years on from their famous love-in at the Downing Street rose garden, David Cameron and Nick Clegg have chosen the appropriately sober setting of an Essex factory for their post-election "relaunch". All the talk is of the pair "renewing their vows" but that's not quite right. Cameron's betrayal of Clegg during the AV campaign meant that the marriage was dissolved long ago. It's not personal, it's just business, is the coalition's new mantra.

Despite Cameron's fear of his government being seen as a "bunch of accountants", the pair will insist that the coalition's raison d'être remains deficit reduction. As the PM will say:

Two years ago our two parties came together to form a strong Coalition. We agreed that our number one priority was to keep Britain safe from the financial storm and to rescue our economy from the mess left by the last Labour Government. That was and remains our guiding task.

But if deficit reduction is the coalition's "guiding task", it's worth pointing out that it hasn't been very good at it. The government borrowed £126bn in 2011-12, £10bn more than Osborne predicted in his "emergency" Budget, and the national debt is set to reach £1.4 trillion by 2014-15. Of course, it's hard to borrow less when the economy is shrinking. In this respect, the government's biggest mistake was to prioritise defict reduction above all else. As Keynes once remarked, "look after unemployment and the Budget will look after itself".

There will be some token references to growth in the speech, with Clegg promising a "renewed sense of urgency" and a "redoubling of our efforts" on getting more credit into the economy and building infrastructure. Yet the refusal of Osborne's "fiscally neutral" Budget to endorse stimulus meant that the real chance to boost growth was missed. Cameron and Clegg will insist that the damage done by the financial crisis was "greater than anyone thought" but to the voters, who have seen their living standards plummet at the fastest rate since the 1920s, this will just sound like another excuse.

Osborne's toxic Budget means that the pair can't even fall back on the old saw that "we're all in this together". Spying a political opportunity, Ed Miliband will also be in Essex today, calling for the reintroduction of the 50p tax rate and the repeal of the "granny tax".

The next election may still be three years away (although it doesn't feel like it, we're not even halfway through the coalition's term) but both parties already have their eyes on 2015. Two years ago, there was talk of a Tory-Lib Dem pact at the next election. Now, figures on both sides suggest that the coalition may not even make it that far. Today's Times (£) reports that the Lib Dems are considering withdrawing from the coalition "well before" May 2015 to allow the party to "reassert its independence". Given the scale of their losses last week (the Lib Dems now have fewer than 3,000 councillors, the lowest number since the party was formed in 1988), that's no surprise. As Matthew Oakeshott, Vince Cable's representative on earth, has warned, if the Lib Dems suffer more defeats like that one, they will not be able to fight the next election as a national party.

Senior Lib Dems say the party needs to leave the coalition "well before" May 2015. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.