Lord Steel is right: the Lib Dems need a break from government

Nick Clegg - World Economic Forum 2011

The former leader of the Liberals, David Steel, has argued that another coalition would be the wrong decision.

With the likelyhood that the UK will be faced with another hung parliament come May, it is quite likely that the Liberal Democrats, if they retain a decent number of seats in the Commons, could become Kingmakers, along with the likes of the SNP, UKIP and the DUP.

However, the former Liberal leader suggested that another coalition should not be an option.

Speaking to the BBC, Steel said that:

“I don’t think there will be a mood in the party to go into coalition - with either party.”

Opponents of this view, in the Liberal Democrats, will make the case that they are a party of government now and that they are a party that has promoted coalitions in the past and that they should show this and continue to make a difference in future coalitions, whether that be with Labour or the Conservatives.

However, Steel thinks that the mood within his party will be for something more along the lines of confidence and supply rather than for a repeat of a coalition.

There are a few reasons why this would be good for the Liberal Democrats:

1) A chance to reflect

For one, it would give the party the opportunity to reflect in opposition and examine its position. The party will argue that it has been successful in the coalition by getting many of its policies implemented, but they have been rejected at the polls and opinion polls suggest that May is going to be another bumpy ride for the party. A spell in opposition would be an opportunity for the party to see where it is at and perhaps allow them to bring in some fresh faces to represent them.

2) Voting on an issue by issue basis

If we end up with a hung parliament in May then it will likely be one more fractured than last time, with more than two parties needed to reach any sort of arrangement. If there is a Labour or Conservative minority government then the Liberal Democrats can vote on principle on issues that matter to them, rather than by being tied by coalition agreements (tuition fees being an example here).

On one hand, this situation could make voters think: why did they not do this the first time? But on the other hand, they can say they have learnt from the past and that in a more fragmented parliament with a minority government they can have a bigger say this way.

3) Disassociation from the Conservatives

The Liberal Democrats have been tainted by the Conservatives due to their time in government, as exemplified by the falling support for the party. However, if they go into opposition, free from the constraints of coalition government they can show that they are different to David Cameron’s party.

Furthermore, if they entered into a Labour coalition after the election they would be accused of just getting into bed with any party for power. Instead, if they reject this and take the position of a party in opposition and just vote on an issue by issue basis then the party will be able to show that it has its own voice - independent of the Conservatives and Labour.

The future of the party?

The Liberal Democrats do have a future in British politics, but entering into coalition might be one way of putting it at risk. A spell in opposition, voting with their principles, could be exactly what the party needs.

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