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20 April 2015

The Lib Dems’ coalition red lines are too agreeable – they need to start playing hard to get

No one's talking about deals with the Lib Dems, because there's nothing in their manifesto to scare the Tory or Labour horses.

By Richard Morris

Nicola says she’ll support Ed but she won’t govern with him because she’s more interested in Scotland than the UK. And Ed says he won’t govern with Nicola because they believe in fundamentally different things (but he’ll happily chat about all sorts of stuff). They both agree that Leanne and Natalie are the right sorts, and also that they don’t want to deal with Dave. Which is fortunate because Dave doesn’t want to deal with them, nor indeed with Nigel, who he doesn’t like at all. Nigel might do a deal with with Dave, despite saying in the past he wouldn’t, and they both agree that they might do a deal with Peter, who is making big eyes at all and sundry.

So what’s missing?

No one’s talking about doing a deal with Nick. Which is a tad surprising, as six months ago every political pundit on the planet would have named Nick Clegg as the party leader most likely to be part of the next government, despite the Lib Dems’ travails in the polls. So where are all the overtures?

Dare I suggest it’s because we’re making it rather too easy for both Labour and the Conservatives to take us for granted?

Partly because they know we will do a deal. Indeed, we’ve made it explicitly clear we’ll be in the room with the doors locked and curtains closed with whoever gets nearest to the line on 7 May, all doe-eyed and eager to please.

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And partly because there’s nothing on the front page of our manifesto to scare the red or blue horses. And that’s not good.

I doubt very much if anyone in Labour is going to argue the toss about our five green laws. Or extra spending on the NHS. Or education, education, education. “Fiscal rectitude” I hear you cry? I doubt we’ll do anything to put off the party whose welfare chief promised be harder on cutting the welfare bill than the Tories.

Ditto the Tories, who will no doubt welcome the camouflage of another Lib Dem coalition to put off the more rabid right-wing backbench flank, and will find it all too easy to nod along to the front page of our manifesto. “Make ourselves look less nasty you say? Well, if you insist…”

As red lines go – they’re not really very hard to agree to. And that’s a problem.

Last time, a hung parliament meant the Tories had to agree to a bunch of stuff they’d never have thought possible in order to gain the keys to No 10 – most obviously the AV referendum and raising the income tax threshold. This time, there’s no sign of any such difficulties.

There’s a rumour of insisting on PR for local elections as one condition of coalition – which is a step in the right direction. But I hope Lib Dem high command has three or four other radical, liberal, honed in the darkest scarlet red lines up their sleeves for whomever they find themselves locked away with, should the electoral arithmetic fall that way.

Currently, I worry we’re looking like a pushover. Which is why no one’s talking about us. We need to start playing hard to get.