Thursday, January 29, 2009

Liberals in Coalition?

The great debate about a hung parliament and coalition government after the next election continues to entertain Westminster insiders. The latest to launch into print on this charming parlour game is the Fabian Society's Sunder Katwala, in the New Statesman. He argues that it is time for Labour and the Lib Dems to acknowledge their position as progressive parties, and form a pre-emptive coalition against the skin-deep progressive Cameron Tory Party.

This might appeal to a Labour Party struggling to believe that its leader can give them another term in office, but it would be death to the Liberals. Paul Burstow, the Liberals' chief whip, suggested to the visiting SGS students this week that the present system in Britain was 'broken'. He used the term more than once. And if it is, and if the Liberals want to be seen as the party of system change, then a coalition with either of the major parties will merely usher them into the same tawdry pit. They cannot credibly pursue the Burstow claim if they are simply shoring it up by sharing power with one of the other parties. That was their problem in both Wales and Scotland, and it is noticeable that the Liberals in those two countries have chosen not to make the same mistake again, even at the expense of unstable minority government. A coalition may bring them power; it will also bring them political disrepute.

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