It’s two months since the election and the novel experiment of a Lib-Dem Conservative coalition government is bedded in after the hung parliament.
And the outlines of the deal that was done in such haste between David Cameron and Nick Clegg are clear.
Cameron, George Osborne and the Conservatives got their way on the economy – the ‘emergency’ budget chose to cut the ‘deficit’ further and faster than the Lib Dems would have liked. This involved sidelining Vince Cable (until recently the people’s Tribune for matters economic and for harrassing the bloody financial industry).
In return, Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems got a promise of a referendum on voting reform (May 5th 2011) and a leading role in something called the Freedom Bill – an attempt to roll back the intrusions of the state into day-to-day life. He’s asked for help from the public with this. This is an area in which the libertarian instincts of the parties can agree although the Daily Mail has its own particular interpretation on the dangers of asking for advice from the plebs. (Libertarianism is often also popular with a government when cash is short).
Only time will tell if this was a good enough deal for the foot soldiers in the Lib Dems, but I’m theorising it won’t be. I thought some evidence for the weakness of Clegg’s position came in Gordon Brown’s last day at Number 10 – when Clegg was rather keen for Gordon to linger to help wring greater concessions from the Conservatives.
The Lib-Dem leader seems to have played the weak hand fortune dealt him well but in the long term I can’t see this taste of power having been much good for him or his party.
If you want an example of the trouble that is heading his way you might want to watch the education debate. Here Minister for Education, Michael Gove, is leading a rather traditional Tory charge against institutional provision of schools through Local Education Authorities. This is an area where Lib-Dems have traditionally been strong (not least in their representation in councils and LEAs) across Britain. There will be blood – there is already – and quite a bit of the violence has come from Conservative councillors too.
Updated: 16th July 2015 – Tim Farron is elected new leader of the party in the wake of a disastrous election defeat and the resignation of Nick Clegg.