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20 August 2010

Clegg stakes everything on the coalition

Lib Dems won’t pull out if referendum is lost ++ Clegg claims party’s “identity crisis” would be wor

By George Eaton

There’s been much discussion of the impact that the electoral reform referendum will have on the future of the coalition, but Nick Clegg has just put a stop to speculation that the Lib Dems could walk away.

In a Radio 4 interview due to be broadcast this weekend, he suggests that his party would not quit the government even if the referendum is lost.

It’s not altogether surprising that Clegg isn’t willing to stake everything on the Alternative Vote, a system he once denounced as a “miserable little compromise”. But his provocative comments — he declares that the Lib Dems aren’t “a sort of glorified form of the Electoral Reform Society” — are likely to unsettle the party’s grass roots further.

Then there’s his dubious claim that the Lib Dems would be in an even worse position (YouGov’s daily tracker has them on 14 per cent) if they hadn’t formed a coalition with the Tories.

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He adds that nobody would be taking “any notice” of the Lib Dems if they weren’t in government, a rather harsh verdict on his party’s pre-coalition existence. And he argues that his party’s “identity crisis” would be far worse if it was in government with Labour.

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That’s a none-too-subtle rebuke to Simon Hughes, who claimed this week that a progressive alliance with Labour was still “on the agenda”. It also sounds like a slightly hurt response to Ed Miliband’s declaration, in his NS interview this week, that he would demand Clegg’s resignation before doing any deal with the Liberal Democrats.

Clegg has now unambiguously staked his political future and that of his party on the coalition. Expect some serious dissent come conference season.