So confident is Nick Clegg that the next election will result in another hung parliament that he’s already announced the Lib Dems’ coalition negotiating team. The right-leaning Danny Alexander and David Laws, the party’s manifesto co-ordinator, survive from 2010 (Chris Huhne and Andrew Stunell do not) and are joined by the left-leaning pensions minister Steve Webb, international development minister Lynne Featherstone and peer Lady Brinton. Like others, as I’ve argued before, Clegg is underestimating the chance of a Labour majority in 2015 (although his emphasis on a future coalition is a logical means of keeping the Lib Dems in the conversation) But even if we assume there will be another “balanced parliament” (as the Lib Dems like to call it), it’s worth posing this question: how many of his negotiating team will keep their seats?
Laws (majority: 13,036) and Webb (majority: 7,116), who hold Tory-facing seats, look safe. But Alexander and Featherstone, who face challenges from Labour, are rightly regarded as vulnerable in Westminster.
Alexander’s Scottish constituency of Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey is being targeted by Labour activists and trade unionists, who believe they can unseat the man who even his own colleagues lament has gone “native” in George Osborne’s Treasury (“rather than meeting Danny we just ask for the Treasury ‘lines’ – it’s quicker,” one Lib Dem adviser told me recently). The Chief Secretary to the Treasury has a majority of 8,765 but given the huge swing against the Lib Dems north of the border, that is no longer large enough to guarantee survival. With a majority of 6,875, Featherstone, who won Hornsey and Wood Green in 2005 on a wave of anger over the Iraq war and top-up fees, is in even greater danger.
Clegg’s decision to announce his coalition negotiating team (the Tories and Labour will undoubtedly make their own prepartions, but don’t expect them to share them with us) isn’t just a bet on another hung parliament; it’s a bet that Lib Dems’ strategy of “57 by-elections” will ensure the likes of Alexander and Featherstone keep their seats.