Coalition of cracks

Posted by Gareth Hargreaves

Liberal Democrat conference exposes gulf in policy direction with Tory partners and the spectre of a leadership challenge for Nick Clegg.

Coalition cracksIf you climb into bed with a scorpion, the chances are, at some point, you will get stung. So, it really comes as no surprise that the party which champions environmentalism, electoral reform and civil liberties has been wounded by its pitiless Coalition bedfellow.

Of the key concessions David Cameron made to the Lib Dems to cement his Coalition government, none has provided the junior partner with any satisfaction: Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has been neutered as a political force. Business Secretary Vince Cable has been frustrated by the abandonment of the mansion tax and Tory pressure on employment law reform, while Treasury chief secretary Danny Alexander - after a bruising loss to George Osborne on green policy - has fallen-in with the Conservative idea of doing things - much to chagrin of grassroots Lib Dems.

Yesterday, Vince Cable raised eyebrows with a scathing attack on the increasingly bullish, hard right positioning of his coalition colleagues. Likening some Conservative thinking to "dog-whistle politics", the Business Secretary then warned his own party that May's local elections were the “last chance” for the party to change direction.

"Rootless Labour" is how he described Ed Miliband's incoherent shadow cabinet, while his disdain for the "ugly" and "blinkered" politics of the Conservatives is well documented. So which direction is Cable suggesting the Lib Dems steer? 

Liberal Democrat ideals have been trampled during three highly damaging years in government and the alarm bells are starting to ring. Latest ICM and YouGov polls show that the surge of support the party enjoyed before the 2010 general election has evaporated, leaving them only five points ahead of the worryingly isolationist UKIP.

In spite of some improvement in the economy, very few are happy with the Conservatives' strategy to bring Britain out of recession. Indeed, polls show a six point lead for Labour - which, by crude calculation, would give them a majority of 76 if an election was held now.

Pre-election polls are all well and good, though you'd have to ask Neil Kinnock about the merit of putting your faith in them. Labour may be ahead in the popularity stakes but can you really imagine the country electing into office Ed Miliband? He is an adequate politician but he is no statesman and he is certainly not up to the job of running this country.

This brings us back to Vince Cable. By recent posturing and thumbing of his nose at Nick Clegg; openly criticising the Conservatives and the state of the Coalition, it appears he is busy securing a power base for beyond the 2015 election. If Miliband the Younger continues to struggle with his Union backers and we end up with a hung Parliament as in 2010, we could see Vince emerge as Kingmaker. Lots of ifs ... but stranger things have happened in politics.

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