As the Lib Dems’ conference in Glasgow progresses, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Coalition between Young Dave’s jolly good chaps and Corporal Clegg’s motley platoon is not very long for this world. The difficulty of riding what is increasingly resembling Low’s two-headed ass of 1918 to 1922 has spilled out into the open in a series of increasingly bitter rows.
The latest dispute has been, to no surprise at all, the Tory plan to do away with the Human Rights Act (HRA) – widely applauded by their friends in the press until they discovered the rozzers were snooping on them, and their hacks and pundits needed its services. The Lib Dems, being genuinely in favour of liberty for all individuals, and not just those with enough money, were having none of it.
This came hard of the heels of a bust-up between Clegg and Theresa May over her desire to have even more powers to bang up More And Scarier Muslims For The Political Benefit Of Herself Personally Now. The propensity of the Tories to garner votes by threatening to come down hard on people who aren’t going to vote for them knows no bounds. I’m keeping the front door securely locked.
And on top of all that was Clegg’s appearance on The Andy Marr Show (tm) yesterday morning, where he talked of the Rt Hon Gideon George Oliver Osborne, heir to the seventeenth Baronet, penalising the “working poor” so the better-off do not have to contribute to future spending cuts (a policy which, borrowing the language of the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance, is claimed to be “fair”).
Seeing the Lib Dems trying to enthuse themselves for the coming General Election, the thought enters: would it serve any purpose for the Coalition to continue all the way to the dissolution of Parliament next year? Clegg and Cameron have already gone several months beyond what Bonar Law and Lloyd George managed after the Great War. There is little likelihood of new legislation being passed.
If Clegg and his colleagues are to avoid the loss of seats being estimated (one recent one is from Iain Dale, who reckons 28, or around half the current number), they need to differentiate themselves, and that might mean admitting after the New Year that the Coalition has run its course. They and Labour would still have the numbers to stop the Tories trying to pass any of their wilder wheezes.
Clegg may once again do well in the leaders’ debates. But by that time it may be too late to recover. If he is serious about being able to present the Lib Dems as a credible alternative, he has to decouple his party from the Tories, because if he doesn’t, well, look what happened to his predecessors after 1922. Two years later, they were finished, and it took them more than 70 years to recover.
You haven’t got that long, Nick. So do you agree with me? No pressure.