A few weeks ago Guido asked a CCHQ insider privy to strategy “What is the negotiating strategy with the LibDems? Is it true Matthew Hancock is in charge of the strategy?” He laughed “the joke of the negotiation strategy is that there isn’t one. If we lose narrowly we’ll leave it up to Clegg to either support Labour or stand alone. Go on to fight a second election and hope to win more comfortably.”
What, Guido asked, if the differential is big? “Don’t be f***ing stupid.”
That LibDem negotiation strategy might be a higher priority nowadays. Hancock is the Tory PPC for West Suffolk and formerly George Osborne’s chief-of-staff, Cleggmania means the problem now has the attention of those above his pay grade. Last Sunday Guido sketched out a potential May 7 scenario, Tim Montgomerie was horrified, the feedback Guido got was more mixed – mostly it was sceptical based on contact with the LibDem grassroots. Left Foot Forward editor Will Straw mirrored Tim Montgomerie, telling Guido in Dimbley’s green room that it was just not going to happen, the LibDems were “progressives”. Well that is a pretty meaningless term, it has even been borrowed by the Cameroons for their agenda. The confusion in the ranks of Labour and Tory true believers is based on the experience of contact with Libdem activists, many of whom are way to the left of Blairites. The parliamentary party is not by and large left wing - it is centrist.
Clegg and the people around him are not of the left, Vince Cable is, but he is the exception. The Orange bookers and the Cameroons share key liberal ideological tenets – localism, decentralisation, transparency and a preference for market based solutions. On the need for “savage cuts” in government spending, accelerated deficit reduction and NHS reform the LibDems have been more honest than the Tories. Most Tories can live with LibDem manifesto commitments on tax (apart from the enterprise killing capital gains hike). They are singing from the same fiscal policy hymn-sheet.
There are real areas of discordance, in particular defence and foreign policy. Here the LibDems betray their liberal radicalism, Clegg is desperately trying to square grassroots weirdie-beardie antipathy to anything nuclear with being in the government of a UN security council member and nuclear power. Letting the Tories have primacy on defence and foreign policy and the LibDems have primacy on home affairs, localism and open government is the most likely compromise. It would also broadly reflect the electorate’s wishes.
We have come a long way in the last 7 days, the well connected chronicler of the Cameroons Matthew D’Ancona now says get real it is on the cards, Cameron tells the Observer the door is open and ‘One of the keys is the people who are liberal with a small L‘, Clegg tells the Sunday Times that “You can’t have Gordon Brown squatting in No 10″, Mandelson warns voters that flirtation with Clegg might lead to a Cameroon marriage. The public on the other hand always love a big wedding. The bookies make a hung parliament the strong favourite outcome with a 60% probability and give the Tories only a 37% chance of forming a majority government. Change is definitely coming and it will probably be in the form of a coalition…
See also : The Change Coalition