At first glance, Charles Kennedy’s article in this month’s Prospect (£), which appears under the headline “I’ve learned to love the coalition”, is rather startling. Has the one Lib Dem MP not to vote in favour of the Coalition Agreement really embraced Cameron and co?
The answer is no. The former Lib Dem leader concedes that “it is in everyone’s interests that it succeeds” and says that he expects the coalition to last until 2015, but goes no further. It would be more accurate to say that Kennedy has learned to tolerate the coalition.
More notable is what he has to say about Labour. He writes: “I’m in no doubt that a sizeable swath within Labour were happier in the luxury of opposition, knowing how hard economically things would be. Much of their outrage at coalition decisions they would have probably taken themselves is synthetic at best.” It’s not the tone of a man who has any intention of crossing the floor.
The article was written before Ed Miliband’s latest overture to the Lib Dems but Kennedy makes it clear that, in his view, there is little prospect of a formal split. He writes: “Despite recent setbacks, the Lib Dems are a much more resilient bunch than we are usually given credit for. We wouldn’t have survived otherwise.” Sounding an optimistic note, he adds: “The real fortunes of the party will hinge on the economic prognosis in the third and fourth years of this parliament.”
The former Lib Dem leader is clearly playing the long game.