ConHome: ‘Tories ponder “generous outreach to Lib Dems”’ Love-bomb or genuine?

by Stephen Tall on February 23, 2009

ConservativeHome co-editor Tim Montgomerie has authored a piece today in which he outlines a debate he claims is being had by senior Tories concerning ‘the extent of outreach that should be made to the Liberal Democrats in the event of the Conservatives becoming the governing party at the next General Election.’ Here’s the meat of it:

I understand that a group of shadow ministers believe that one of Tony Blair’s bigger strategic mistakes was to row back on co-operation with the Liberal Democrats when he won such a large Commons majority in 1997. These shadow ministers believe that – contrary to Labour’s ‘under-delivery’ to the LibDems – the Conservatives should deliver more in practical co-operation in government than they promise in opposition.

The discussion is not of ministerial positions – although there might be some significant appointments to policy reviews – but of working groups on issues of shared interest. Action on civil liberties and on green issues are on the table.

Tim sincerely seems to believe that such talk is noteworthy. At the risk of raining on his parade, though, I’m far from convinced. Here’s why.

There seems to be a non-sequitur between the two paragraphs I’ve quoted above. Let’s remember that the Blair/Ashdown plan would have seen at least two senior Lib Dems join the cabinet in 1997 as part of a Lib/Lab coalition ‘partnership of principle’. The scale of Labour’s majority effectively put paid to the deal, but its watered-down legacy – the joint consultative committee on constitutional reform – lasted until September 2001, with little tangible results.

Thought it’s conceivable that the Lib Dems and Tories could find a reasonable wedge of common ground on civil liberties – at least if the Tories prove willing to adhere to the so-called ‘Davis agenda’ in government – it’s hard to imagine the parties finding it easy to work together on climate change, especially with the Tories continuing to row back from any support for ‘green taxes’. As for the idea of ‘significant appointments to policy reviews’ – well, we’ve seen that already this Parliament when Gordon Brown became Prime Minister.

There’s nothing wrong with these ideas, but this is scarcely revolutionary stuff: it’s all been tried before by New Labour (which may of course be where Cameron & Co got the idea).

I fail to see, therefore, how establishing some working groups and policy reviews will put right what these unnamed senior Tories appear to regard as one of ‘Tony Blair’s bigger strategic mistakes’ – namely not listening to the Lib Dems nearly enough! So, for all the spin applied to this novelty of “generous Tory outreach”, the suspicion lingers that this is little more than some mischievous ‘love-bombing’ intended to woo wavering Lib Dem/Tory voters.