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Hard-headed realism should guide our dealings with the Conservatives

October 25, 2012 5:17 PM
By Andrew Tennant - Charnwood in Liberal Democrat Voice
Originally published by East Midlands Liberal Democrats

Andrew TennantI'm an unreserved coalition enthusiast.

The coalition means Lib Dems in government; something which, in turn, means the implementation of many Lib Dem policies, the likes of which I have campaigned and voted for over the years, believing said policies to be long overdue and beneficial for the country.

But, despite what our critics say, that doesn't make me a Tory; and I have very little interest in seeing the Conservatives have an easy ride, in helping them implement their policies, or in keeping their members happy.

The embrace them closely strategy of the first coalition year now looks naive, and most Lib Dems will be buoyed that the battles and arguments within the government can now occur in public, with voters more able to see the differences in our parties' respective principles and positions.

Whenever the Lib Dems win and our policies become law, there are angry reactions from the Tory members so memorably monikered by John Major and embodied by the 'traditionalists' of the 1922 committee.

The cult of Boris, as the media discuss openly and enthusiastically, now threatens to become a Conservative leadership challenge, with the 'true blues' demanding a 'proper Tory' and not some 'Lib Dem appeasing, liberal apologist'.

Make no mistake, because of Lib Dem successes, David Cameron is fighting for his political future. The bookies now make him favourite to go as party leader, ahead of Nick Clegg. It is because he feels threatened, and seriously so, that his conference threw a bit of red meat to his stalking predators; why he lurched to the right in a reactionary fashion; and why he is now giving up on half a decade of attempted brand detoxification.

For the Lib Dems this represents an opportunity - fertile ground laid open, for a party, like ours, of moderate, evidence based policy making, to put forward new ideas for how the country would be better with more Lib Dems elected. It provides a number of popular red lines where we can restrain the Tories' unsavoury instincts. It lets us show the public that the Lib Dem party in parliament is the party on their side.

That's why I'll be helping us win many more arguments in future - on equal marriage, on the mansion tax, and political reform.

As we fight to anchor the government in the centre ground, the Tory voices urging policies way off to right, seem ever more extreme, out of touch, and unelectable.

But we must be pragmatic and never nostalgic - we owe neither Cameron nor the Tories any gratitude or loyalty for our involvement in government. When we've got all that we can out of the coalition arrangement; perhaps not far from now when his critics stab Cameron in the front as much as in the back, or when he goes native in a futile act of self-preservation; we shouldn't hesitate to say 'It's you, not me - this isn't working anymore. Pack up your stuff and get out of the house".

Where the Tories aren't delivering the policies we want and need to see, we should call for an election and show the electorate that only we as a party have the instincts and policies they can trust to do what's right by them and right for the country.

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