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Thursday, March 03, 2005
Why the Lib Dems need Labour in power

Lib Dem Watch reports that Charles Kennedy has missed another key Commons appearance this week, by his account because he wanted to give an interview to Channel Five. Channel Five, eh? Entering the big leagues now, isn't he? One can only assume he had something rather important to say. Well, in fact he used his appearance to re-affirm his party's commitment to give the vote to prisoners, including the likes of Ian Huntley - a policy I have written about before.

Anyway, it's clear attitudes are no more sober a little further down in the party.

The Liberal Democrats today predicted that they would topple four top Tories in the general election, saying there was "no ceiling" on how well they could do in the poll.

...The campaign chairman, Lord Razzall, predicted that high-profile shadow cabinet ministers Oliver Letwin, David Davis, Theresa May and Tim Collins would all be replaced by Liberal Democrat MPs at the forthcoming election.

It's always difficult once one gets into the game of bluff, double-bluff, triple-bluffs and so on to work out any real intentions, but in this case I think it's fairly safe to say that unless the Lib Dems themselves are as stupid as some of their policies, and happy to give themselves away like this, then the statement means the opposite. They are not heavily targetting the listed MPs, probably because they judge they have little chance of overturning their majorities, and want to encourage the Conservatives to use resources defending existing seats rather than where they might be more effectively employed.

None of the four listed should consider themselves out of the woods yet. Some have very precarious majorities, and I wouldn't rule out losses. But I'd be astonished if more than a couple of them fell, and cannot take seriously predictions that Letwin, Davis, May and Collins will all be down at the Job Centre on Monday, 9th May.

What did occur to me once again when reading was how much more the Liberal Democrats are fighting the Conservatives than Labour. I think I know why. Certainly it's about wanting to overtake the Tories before the Lib Dems. But there is more to it than that.

Whatever the gameplan, for the Liberal Democrats the necessity of Labour remaining in government until they are in position to take over is paramount given their position on the political spectrum. After all, as soon as a Conservative government were to be formed, almost all the opposition to it from the left would solidify around Labour. All Labour governments in Britain adopt a measure of (essentially Tory) realism upon being given the responsibilities of office, so there will always be people to the left of Labour governments, demanding that they move their way. But when the Conservatives are in power, the anger at conservative government policies will be directed at the Tories, not Labour. The move to the left that they view as necessary will be embodied by Labour, not the Liberal Democrats.

Right now, the Lib Dems have something of a good position for themselves as the party calling for more money for public services, more liberal attitudes to a range of issues and a more left-leaning foreign policy. As soon as Labour entered opposition, this privilege would be one the Lib Dems would have to share. And who could be blamed for taking Labour more seriously when it says it is the party that can actually enter government and get these things done?

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