There is such a wide expectation that the Lib Dems are facing meltdown on Thursday that we can expect them to claim a great success in anything that avoids a complete wipe-out. But how will they respond to the worst case scenario? What will happen to the coalition if the Lib Dem vote collapses spectacularly at this week’s polling day?
It depends on what motivates them. They say that they are motivated by principle, so they must be willing to fall on their sword, leave the coalition, cause a general election, apologise for their error, and fight for their parliamentary seats.
If, however, they are a party low on principle, but high on a desire to keep their jobs, then they will stay exactly where they are, and hang on in the hope that things get better.
So what happens if they are slaughtered at the polls, then stay in the coalition? I think they will be miserable and the Tories will be delighted. Since it will be obvious that they have no choice in the situation, they will be powerless and the Tories will know this. Seats in government will be only in name. They will be puppets to their Conservative Party masters.
There has been talk about a new coalition agreement. This talk comes from the Tories as well as the Lib Dems. The Lib Dems will threaten to walk if they don’t get more power, but even a conversation will smell like the weakness to the Tory attack dogs. Expect them to play a game, to happily string them along. Expect the Tories to insist that the negotiation is not a rush-job such as the five days last May. Then note that it somehow never actually happens.
Of course, there is a third option, which may be the most realistic and give them some genuine clout: To leave the government with the undertaking to vote through the government’s policies. This way, they avoid a general election, but create the illusion of principle. Perhaps they can even win back their reputation.
They could insist that the Health reforms are dropped altogether, and boast that this was the price they paid for their votes. Cameron would love to get out of that policy without losing face. They could even demand a reduction in tuition fees?
With a new leader and a new start, they would be free to attack the government and to reposition themselves in the eyes of the electorate. This would seem like the most probably outcome, if it didn’t rely on them giving up on their chauffeur driven cars and ministerial titles.
Whether they be willing to do this, I leave you to consider.