Speaking on R4 this morning Michael Portillo spoke of his hope that the Coalition will stand together at the next election.
Portillo’s remark is the first time a senior Conservative spokesman has suggested that a permanent splitting of the Liberal Democrats, although that is inevitably what he proposes.
R4 Today, LINK
The Lib Dem MPs who are in traditional Labour seats, such as Simon Hughes in Bermondsey and Old Southwark, may be safe due to their personal popularity, but if they were standing as de facto Conservatives they would face electoral defeat.
It therefore would become inevitable that the Liberal Democrats would have to split into Conservative and Labour sections and ally themselves with the bigger parties. Presumably, this would, over time, make the Lib Dem MPs effective members of these bigger parties, rather like Co-Op MPs are equal members of Labour.
This raises the question of how the Labour Party should respond.
The curious development of the recent routing of Lib Dems in the local election, is that their angry appears to be more focused on Labour than the Conservatives, even though it was their own actions that lost the goodwill of the Labour Party. This may be because they are in government with the Tories and are therefore compromised on their private thoughts.
However, senior Lib Dem politician Paddy Ashdown, who is no longer an MP, appeared bitter on the recent episode of the BBC’s Question Time. Ashdown claimed that Labour had refused to enter coalition with the Lib Dems following the general election of 2010. This was immediately disputed by Labour’s Andy Burnham, and is not recorded by any of the published historical accounts.
The anger of the lost AV referendum appears to be focused on Labour because they could have delivered a Yes vote, but campaigned aggressively for No. For example, the pictures that showed a soldier with the caption, “AV won’t buy me a flak jacket”, which tapped into the electorate’s hostile belief that change would be expensive, this came from the Labour side of the No campaign.
Labour were divided on AV between those who held an intellectual belief that AV who be fairer to the progressive left vote and those who were angered at the Lib Dems perceived betrayal by going into coalition with the Conservatives, with apparent eagerness.
The issue is important for Labour to consider seriously, since the nature of the coalition means that the Conservatives have a close relationship with the Lib Dem parliamentary party and therefore have an advantage when it comes to persuading Lib Dem MPs as to what party they would ally themselves to.
Mr Cameron’s ability to offer high office to Lib Dem MPs is also an incentive that is not currently available to Labour.
Roughly two thirds of Lib Dem MPs are in historic Conservative seats, while one third occupies historic Labour seats. MPs with small majorities would likely find themselves excluded from any deals.