The Journal Opinion: Go back to your constituencies and prepare for opposition

The Journal's opinion column for Monday, October 6, in which we argue that the Lib Dems should think hard about joining a future coalition

Danny Lawson/PA Wire Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg

If the Liberal Democrats manage to cling on to 50 seats at next year’s general election, it will be a stunning escape.

It’s possible that Nick Clegg’s party could be humiliated and finish with just 20-odd seats.

Such a result would be unfair. The Liberal Democrats have made mistakes in government. But arguably the biggest was made before the coalition came into being.

In their 2010 manifesto, the Liberal Democrats pledged to scrap unfair tuition fees, a promise they failed to deliver on when in government, causing deep and lasting damage to their credibility.

In retrospect, what they – and indeed all the parties – failed to consider was the possibility that the 2010 election could have resulted in a coalition. It’s a mistake no one should make next year.

Liberal Democrat popularity has suffered particularly badly in areas where they were challenging Labour. They include the North East.

In 2010, the Liberal Democrat harboured rosy hopes of challenging or even toppling Labour in five urban seats in the region – Durham, Blaydon and all three Newcastle seats. They fell short and it’s very difficult to see them mounting any kind of challenge in those seats next year – or anywhere else in the urban North East.

Yet, the Liberal Democrats did the right thing in 2010. The political arithmetic of the election meant a coalition with the Conservatives was the only realistic option.

It’s possible that the Liberal Democrats could be a junior partner in another coalition next year. They have to ask themselves if that is what they really want, or if it is not time, to paraphrase former leader David Steel, to go back to their constituencies and prepare for opposition.

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