Who would the Lib Dems prefer to go into coalition with? We know what the party’s activists think, thanks to an Independent on Sunday poll that found them in favour of shacking up with Labour, and thanks to the Observer, we know what former party leader Lord Ashdown thinks (although he seems a little aerated about the write-up of his interview). But this morning on the Marr Show, Nick Clegg was asked who he would choose between in a photo finish in the 2015 general election. The Lib Dem leader said:
‘It is my genuine belief that if you go back to the bad old days, not of coalition and balanced politics, but either the left or the right dominating government on their own, you will get a recovery that is neither fair nor sustainable. I think Labour would wreck the recovery, and under the Conservatives, who don’t have the same commitment to fairness that we do, you’d get the wrong kind of recovery. So our message is: coalition is good; what the Liberal Democrats have done in government is good. Let us finish the job, but let us finish it fairly.’
So the Lib Dem leader isn’t just positing his party as the only centre-ground option, but also as somehow the Better Party: one that doesn’t just splurge money but also one that does nice things rather than mean things like the Tories. To that end, Clegg killed off the ‘go home’ vans in his interview, even though the Home Office is officially still looking at the results of its pilots.
This positioning represents a challenge for the Tories. Clegg also claimed credit for a list of nice-sounding policies in his interview, and last night’s conference rally opened with a video in which the party’s commitment to fairness was trumpeted, along with a stirring musical backdrop. Slightly preachy, some Tories might think, but the Conservatives will want to show at their own conference that they haven’t failed on fairness in the way that Clegg likes to suggest they have. They have welfare reform, free schools and other key policies that the Lib Dems have dithered over to trumpet and set to music if they wish.