What are we to make of the story in this morning’s Daily Mail which claims that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are in talks about a second coalition?
The first thing to point out is that the party is still flatly denying that it is willing even to reach a ‘deal’, let alone form a coalition. This is entirely consistent with Tim Farron’s position throughout the general election campaign.
But Farron is on his way out, for reasons our editor examined yesterday, so there’s no cause to be certain that his abstentionist policy will survive him.
After all, he refused to serve even in the first Coalition, allowing him to present a bruised Lib Dem membership with clean hands following their rout at the 2015 general election.
Those vying to succeed him – names include Vince Cable, Norman Lamb, and newly-returned Scottish MP Jo Swinson – took a very different view. All held office in David Cameron’s Government, and may thus be less willing to see their party slip back into its comfort zone of perpetual opposition.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be so surprising that there have been talks, then. Nonetheless an actual deal being reached would still be very surprising. In normal times, the Conservatives and Lib Dems have proven that they can work together. But these are not normal times, and any arrangement between the two parties would surely founder upon the rock of Brexit.
The concessions the Lib Dems would need – a second referendum, say, or ongoing membership of the single market and customs union – would be wholly unacceptable to the Tory Eurosceptics, whose Parliamentary representation outnumbers theirs several times over.
It’s also very difficult to imagine Theresa May of all people giving the Lib Dems control of the Home Office, which the Mail says is the department they’re keenest on.
Of course, there’s a chance that any secret meetings aren’t being conducted in good faith, but are simply meant to make a Tory/DUP pact more difficult by convincing liberal Conservative MPs that there’s an alternative on the table.
Either way, with the two parties fundamentally at odds on the greatest issue of the day any rapprochement looks very unlikely indeed.