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The Lib Dem Tina myth

There were alternatives to this full-blown coalition of convenience with the Tories.

By Mehdi Hasan

Do you remember Margaret Thatcher’s slogan “There is no alternative” (aka “Tina“)?

In recent days, I’ve clashed with Liberal Democrat MPs — from the unconvincing and uncomfortable Simon Hughes to the pompous and prickly Greg Mulholland — who have pushed the Tina line in order to defend the indefensible: their opportunistic coalition of convenience with Cameron’s Conservatives. What else could we have done, bleat the Lib Dems? What was the alternative, they repeatedly ask?

As someone who was once a supporter and admirer of the Liberal Democrats, in the pre-Clegg era, let me refer to two of Clegg’s more progressive predecessors. Here is Charles Kennedy in today’s Observer:

I did not subscribe to the view that remaining in opposition ourselves, while extending responsible “confidence and supply” requirements to a minority Tory administration, was tantamount to a “do nothing” response. I felt that such a course of action would have enabled us to maintain a momentum in opposition, while Labour turned inwards.

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Here is Paddy Ashdown on the Today programme last Tuesday, rubbishing the idea that a Labour/Lib Dem coalition would be unstable:

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If this was a coalition made up of what you might call the panjandrum elements that you suggest, I would not be in favour of it. It is a coalition made up of Liberal Democrat and Labour in which we would dare the other elements if they wished to vote us down and, I can tell you, I can think of no political circumstances where that would happen.

Lib Dem apologists — like the odious Greg Mulholland and various commenters on this blog — can get as worked up and outraged as they like. But their own former leaders tell us that alternatives to this Tory/Lib Dem coalition were available: 1) a minority Conservative government relying on “supply and confidence” from the Liberal Democrats, and 2) a Lab-Lib minority coalition governing with the implicit support of the nationalists and others.