John Kampfner: “Clegg is set to be kingmaker again in 2015?

by Stephen Tall on July 12, 2013

John Kampfner, one of the few progressive voice from the centre-left who defected from Labour to the Lib Dems in the run-up to the 2010 election and has continued to give the party a sympathetic hearing during the Coalition, writes in today’s Times about Lib Dem prospects post-2015: Clegg is set to be kingmaker again in 2015 (£).

5 points in particular are worth highlighting (ie, I agree with them):

The Lib Dems will more than likely remain a force to be reckoned with:

… the Liberal Democrats head towards 2015 knowing they can target their meagre resources on just 10 per cent of the electorate. By defending their incumbent MPs — who are often popular with local voters — they won’t be fighting a nationwide campaign but 50 or so by-elections. The chances of this campaign succeeding look reasonably good after the party’s spectacular “hold” of Eastleigh in February. In spite of the scandal surrounding Chris Huhne and the wandering speeding points, the tuition fees U-turn and the Lord Rennard controversy, the Lib Dems held on. If they prevail in 40 or so constituencies next time around, they will be in a solid position to hold the balance of power for a second time.

Nick is open to forming a coalition with Labour next time:

… contrary to conventional wisdom in Westminster, Mr Clegg is open to an arrangement with Labour and that a Lib-Lab alliance is very possible even if he remains leader. … What of the lazy assumption that Mr Clegg is socially and politically more at home with Mr Cameron? “He’s not particularly keen on either party. If he was, he’d probably have joined it,” remarks an aide. He will work with whoever is more prepared to enact key Lib Dem policies.

Both Lib Dems and Tories are relaxed about differentiation within the Coalition:

The policy of differentiation is now embedded. A year ago, many people thought the Lib Dems were propping up a Tory government. That view is shared less now, and Mr Clegg’s team can point to a number of key policies they have either championed, restrained or stopped. Over the next year look for the Lib Dems stepping up efforts to promote taxation of expensive properties, oppose more welfare cuts and keep Britain at the heart of Europe. Although the media presents differentiation as unhelpful to relations with the Tories, Mr Cameron wants the Lib Dems to emphasise their left- wing credentials. Tories want the Lib Dems to win back some of the voters it has lost to Labour. Tory backbenchers may complain at Mr Clegg’s “left-wing lurch” but Mr Cameron won’t.

The Lib Dems need to make this Coalition a success:

The Prime Minister knows that the coalition is strong. The Liberal Democrats now see participation in government as an electoral plus. They want to convince sceptical voters that hung Parliaments need not be failures. They will go all the way through to the election campaign (and during it).

And he’s clearly got Ryan Coetzee’s memo:

As for the Lib Dems’ pitch, could the events of the past few months have played into their hands? They will seek to portray Mr Cameron as hostage to his party’s Europhobe Right. Mr Miliband’s decision to require union members to opt into the party rather than be automatically enrolled has drawn praise, but bigger questions about Labour’s attitude to controlling public spending persist. … Mr Clegg’s focus groups and strategists indicate that there are votes to be had from the soft left and soft right if the Liberal Democrats present themselves as a “sensible”, non-tribal party that tempers the worst instincts of the two big forces.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.