I’m still trying to understand the tactics of key Cameroons when it comes to the LibDems. I’m not sure if they’re positioning for a formal coalition with Ming’s party in the likely event of a hung parliament or if they are more ambitiously trying to split Britain’s third party by detaching Orange Book reformers like David Laws and Nick Clegg from the more big state LibDems like Phil Willis and Simon Hughes.
My guess is that they’d most like the second of the two tactics to succeed but they’re not yet seeing much progress. On Saturday Peter Oborne noted George Osborne‘s behind-the-scenes offer of a shadow cabinet post to David Laws. It was refused. Last year Ed Vaizey wrote for The Guardian about Menzies Campbell’s "leadership crisis" and invited the reformist LibDems top join Team Cameron:
"Their most talented MPs – David Laws, Nick Clegg, Vincent Cable, Jeremy Browne, and others – must now think seriously about which direction the party should go in. It is time they sat down and looked at the refreshed Conservatives, and decided whether, in the run up to the next election, they position themselves as the guarantors of a discredited Labour government, or part of a coalition to renew British politics."
It wasn’t long before Ed Vaizey appeared to recant.
I’m back on this subject because of an article in this week’s Spectator by Michael Gove. A few weeks ago Michael Gove said the following during a Commons Committee discussion of the Greater London Authority Bill:
"I notice that the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington [LibDem MP Tom Brake] flinched slightly when I suggested that Liberal-Conservative co-operation was the future. I acknowledge that such a view is not shared by all Liberal Democrats, but I am informed that more cerebral Liberal Democrats see it as the path to the future."
In his Spectator piece (not yet online) Michael Gove is damning about the LibDem leader:
"Yet while natural conservatives will want to celebrate the happy completion of the first year of Ming rule, the same, sadly, cannot be said of the nation’s dwindling number of Liberal Democrats. For the country’s third party, the last 12 months have been arid times. Dropping in the opinion polls, neglected by the news media, increasingly marginal to the nation’s debates, the Lib Dems have become like Chelsea Pensioners — magnificent in their way but redolent of another age. It is striking that the eclipse of the Liberal Democrats should coincide with Ming’s accession to the leadership. He is, in a way, the purest living embodiment in British politics of the Peter Principle — the law which dictates that people will rise just one level above their natural slot in life, to a position in which their weaknesses are then cruelly exposed."
Ouch! The article goes on to say that the LibDems have stopped thinking: "Take a gander at the Lib Dem party website and you’ll find that all its spokesmen’s statements are reactions to what the other parties are doing — with scarcely a fresh idea from one month to the next." All quite true but not helpful (I wouldn’t have thought) to encouraging LibCon co-operation.
There have been a series of recent articles on YourPlatform exploring policy agreements and differences with the Liberal Democrats: Martin Sewell on drugs; David Dundas on nuclear power; Lee Rotherham on Europe; Bob Seely and Bill Melotti on civil liberties; Robert Colville on localism; and William Norton on PR.