An interesting piece by Vernon Bogdanor on the future of the Coalition has just appeared online. His main point is that both Coalition parties are having to look out for their increasingly restless grassroots: Tories pulling to the right, LibDems pulling to the left. And this destabilises the Coalition. The odds of it failing to reach 2015 intact must be steadily shortening.
It is clear that parts of the Tory party – both at Parliamentary and grassroots level – are making attempts to pull the party to the right, and are seemingly getting plenty of sympathetic media space in which to air their views. The evidence that Libdem activitists are trying to pull the party to the left is a little less clear. There is a clear attempt at differentiation, but that isn’t quite the same thing.
The other difference is that the Tory right are trying to move the party to a position that it hasn’t previously occupied – to the right of the 1980s Thatcherites. Many Libdem activities see themselves rather more as trying to reclaim their party as a party of the centre-left, from a leadership that has sought to move it to the right.
A problem for the Libdems in all of this is that, as polling figures reported in today’s papers indicate, quite a large chunk of Libdem centre-left electoral support has broken off and drifted to Labour. Equally importantly, at the activist level some staunch social liberals have quit the party in the face of its complicity in the Coalition’s overtly (and overly) right wing agenda. They have not, however, defected to Labour. Many of them simply couldn’t.
Bogdanor highlights the way in which the two Tory-Liberal Coalitions of the twenthieth century fractured, in both cases inflicting serious damage on the Liberals. The fear is that this Coalition has been equally damaging for the party, possibly fatally undermining its claim to be a national party.
The more time goes on the more I feel it is possible that we are going to replay history. The calls from the Libdem grassroots for ending participation in the Coalition seem to me to be growing more frequent and more insistent. And something of a gap appears to be opening up between the grassroots and the Parliamentary party. The Parliamentary party are keen to keep the focus on all the liberal measures the Government has enacted. Many at the grassroots, while welcoming those achievements, are equally keen to recognise the Party’s support for all the awful Conservative measures that represent the high price that has been extracted to secure the liberal victories. Even some of the more committed Coalitionistas are having doubts.
The Leadership appears more comfortable with the Coalition than many among the (dwindling) membership.
Back in 2010 no one would have entertained the idea that we were destined to replay 1932 all over again. Perched out here in the West Country I’ve no particular insight into what’s happening in the metropolitan centres of political power. But I’m reasonably familiar with the ebb and flow of Libdem debate online. And I get a sense that there is now rather less certainty about how things are going to play out. It would seem unwise to rule out the possibility that it will get rather messy at some point in the not too distant future.
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