Ron Beadle: My party's general election prospects died the day we joined the current coalition

Gateshead Liberal Democrat Ron Beadle forecasts another coalition after the election on May 7 - between the Conservatives and Labour

David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband
David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband

The voters might just get what they want - but in a very strange way

I have knocked on doors in every election since 1983 and have never found voters as confused about their voting intentions as they are this time.

The old rule for canvassers was that no-one is ever undecided; if people say they don’t know how they will vote, it means that they are voting for the opposition.

That rule has held good in my experience but this time things are different. The volume of undecided voters and the lack of enthusiasm amongst those who express a preference are quite new.

Every election has a theme, 1983 was about division; 1997 was about hope; 2015 will be about disillusionment.

Labour voters don’t rate Ed Miliband, Tories feel let down by David Cameron, Lib Dems feel betrayed and Ukip voters are furtive.

The parties know that they will not win with positive policies this time so each will try instead to convince you of the critical question that should be in your mind on May 7.

The Tories would like you to ask whether you trust the two Eds to run the economy; Labour want you to ask whether you trust the Tories with the NHS, the Lib Dems will want you to vote against either a dangerous left wing government or a nasty government of the right; Ukip would like you to think – how would Jeremy Clarkson vote?

OK the last one might not be strictly accurate but you get the point.

My judgment however is that the election won’t boil down to a single question because people’s concerns are too disparate.

So the polls predicting the most diverse parliament in history are probably right. My surprising conclusion is that Labour ruling out a coalition with the SNP means that the only chance of a two-party coalition will be a Grand Coalition between the Tories and Labour.

Why not another coalition involving the Lib Dems? The problem is that my party’s general election prospects died the day we joined the current Coalition.

In particular those who converted to the Lib Dems since 2000 will not forgive the party for tuition fees.

Nick Clegg will argue that people should think about all the things we did right such as cutting income tax for people on low wages, rather than about the one thing we got wrong.

But that is like an unfaithful husband pleading for his wife to stay because he does the ironing and makes a nice cup of tea.

The additional argument that the Lib Dems couldn’t deliver the tuition fee policy because we didn’t win the election is risible because honouring the pledge did not require us to win the election.

Nick Clegg has urged his party to appeal to the millions of decent, reasonable people who would like to vote for a decent, reasonable party.

The problem is that decent, reasonable people know what ‘pledge’ means.

Disillusionment with politics as a whole was turbo-charged by tuition fees. The Lib Dems’ only hope is that those MPs who voted against tuition fees, such as Tim Farron in Westmorland and Lonsdale, survive the cull. There will be much soul searching for those who remain after May 7.

But for the other parties there may be governing to do and two possibilities emerge.

First either Labour or the Tories could try to run a minority government; but I doubt that they will have enough MPs to do this and instability would lead to real economic problems.

So the second alternative is a Grand Coalition between the Tories and Labour, something that a small number of brave Labour MPs such as Gisela Stuart, have suggested.

Such a coalition might actually produce a government whose policies are closer to the views of the electorate than either would be on their own.

Most Britons are right wing on immigration, home affairs and Europe but left wing on public services and the NHS.

So a deal involving a Labour Chancellor and Labour Ministers in Health, Education and Local Government serving a Tory Prime Minister with Tory Home and Foreign Secretaries seems feasible.

It would be a deeply illiberal government and one that would agree to differ during the European referendum but the 2010-15 Coalition has shown that such arrangements can hold. Watch this space.

Ron Beadle is a Liberal Democrat councillor for Low Fell, Gateshead


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