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20 January 2011

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.

By Olly Grender

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?

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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.