In 2015, I dubbed the Liberal Democrat manifesto their a “coalition-ready” document: it was stuffed with small incremental changes. A few might have pulled Ed Miliband to the right or David Cameron to the left, but all were all perfectly deliverable in coalition. There were no tuition-fee-style hostages to fortune – every promise in the 2015 manifesto could have been delivered in a coalition, regardless of who was in it.
The 2017 manifesto is very different. This is a Liberal Democrat manifesto from the year BC: Before Coalition. These are policies that, for the most part, could only be secured in the event of a Liberal Democrat majority in the House of Commons.
Take the big ticket item: a vote on the terms of the Brexit deal. That would be a tricky ask if Labour were, say, 30 seats short of a majority in parliament, as their leader is a Eurosceptic of long vintage, or a parliamentary party worried about going the same way as their Scottish colleagues did if they defy their voters over a referendum. The Liberal Democrats might, however, get their way on the legalisation of cannabis.
As for their commitment to increase income tax by a penny in the pound on the basic, higher and top rate of tax to fund the NHS: Labour have made a great deal of hay that average earners will pay no more tax under them, and would loathe to give it up.
But those achievements look a lot better than what they’d get past a Conservative government under Theresa May. Philip Hammond – or whoever May replaces him with after 8 June – is not going to sign off a penny increase in income tax to spend on the Liberal Democrats and there is no drug strong enough to convince May is to approve the decriminalisation and legal sale of cannabis.
At this election at least, the Liberal Democrats are firmly back in their “wouldn’t it be wonderful if we won?” fantasyland – lightyears away from the age of Nick Clegg.