Clegg to rule out any form of Lib Dem coalition

by Stephen Tall on February 14, 2010

The Guardian has the story:

The Liberal Democrats are planning to rule out forming a coalition government with either the Conservatives or Labour if Nick Clegg holds the balance of power in a hung parliament after the general election. … senior Lib Dems are making clear that Clegg has no interest in taking cabinet posts and would focus instead on winning support for four key Lib Dem demands.

Clegg would be prepared to throw a lifeline to the Conservatives or Labour by allowing either party to pass a Queen’s speech if the aspiring government makes concessions in the four areas, described as the Lib Dem “shopping list”:

• Investing extra funds in education through a pupil premium for disadvantaged children.
• Tax reform, taking 4 million out of tax and raising taxes on the rich by requiring capital gains and income to be taxed at the same rate.
• Rebalancing of the economy to put less emphasis on centralised banking and more on a new greener economy.
• Political reforms, including changes to the voting system and a democratically elected Lords, that go further than proposed by Labour.

Clegg would give the minority government a chance to deliver and would not expect his demands to be met in full by the time of the Queen’s speech, the first major parliamentary test of a new administration. “People expect stable government,” one aide said. “It is right to assume that if one party has a mandate it should have a crack at governing. If no party has a majority, then people will need to talk to each other.”

An ally says of the “shopping list”: “You can wield influence without being in government. You could even negotiate a programme for government through a Queen’s speech with 40 to 50% of your ideas taken up, or negotiate on individual bills.” Clegg is opposed to forming a coalition because aides and senior MPs argue it would be highly dangerous for the Liberal Democrats to become minority partners in a coalition government on the grounds that the majority party could manipulate the timing of the next election to suit it. The Lib Dems have long campaigned for fixed terms at Westminster to deprive the prime minister of the initiative on election timing.

This seems sensible to me. LDV’s survey of party members last week showed majority support for the Lib Dems cooperating with either Labour or Tories so long as at least some of the party’s manfesto promises were met.

Moreover, specifying four areas where the party would expect to see progress focuses any talk of hung parliament squarely on Lib Dem priorities – the media will have to start asking Gordon Brown and David Cameron if they would be prepared to adopt Lib Dem policies in order to stay in government if they fail to win a majority.

It’s feasible to imagine either Labour or the Tories being prepared to move towards the Lib Dem position on points 1-3 as listed by the Guardian. Point 4 – the urgent need for electoral reform – would appear to rule out the Tories from benefiting from Lib Dem support, so opposed is David Cameron to any change to the status quo. Yet the Guardian also makes clear the party’s antipathy to Labour – ‘One MP said: “We don’t want to be tied to a rotting corpse.”‘

What do LDV readers think of the announcement? Discuss …