Last night the Lib-Dems abstained on the vote to pat David Cameron on the back for shrinking Britain’s role in World Politics. Ok, it was an abstention rather than a vote against the motion, but, it was the first coordinated sign of discontent from within the party and shows that the level of animosity amongst the Lib-Dems is growing.
I wrongly predicted Lib-Dem revolt months ago, and having been naive about the party’s position then, I’m not going to make any rash predictions now, particularly in the absence of anyone who is able to provide a challenge to the leadership of Clegg. But, it must be right that the coalition is less stable now than it was a week ago – the Lib-Dems are currently feeling foolish and thoroughly disheartened by their whole experience in government.
So what could they do?
Well, it appears to me that they have four options – first, do nothing and continue along their steady decline towards oblivion in 2015; second, the could attempt to re-draw the terms of the coalition in an attempt to make themselves look better. This is Clegg’s favoured plan, it’s a poor one, the best he will get is a few mealy-mouthed words from Cameron about still being in Europe and a lukewarm promise to set up schemes to help unemployment, it won’t save them; option three, is a formal withdrawal from the coalition and a new agreement to support the Tories piecemeal – this, actually, will be the most effective way in which the Lib-Dems could counter the rightward thrust of the Cameron government, but such a strategy would scare the party and Clegg has proved that he is not a strong enough leader to lead his party in such an arrangement; option four then, is full withdrawal and a vote to bring about an election.
So what do the Parties think about a general election in 2012? And how likely is it to happen?
Well, perversely an election next year would probably suit the Tories best – support for Labour and Ed Milliband is sluggish and the electorate still appear to blame the last Labour government for our economic travails; whilst, a disintegration of the Lib-Dem vote would assist the Conservative party more than Labour. David Cameron has a recklessly arrogant streak in him, and I could see him eventually reaching a point where he says to the Lib-Dems, it’s over, lets see what the electorate think.
Labour, don’t want a general election. They anticipate a worsening of the economic position and they hope that the electorate will grow to love Ed Milliband and forgive and forget Labour for the last days of Gordon Brown and the perceived failings of economic policy. They may be right about the former, but I wouldn’t bet on the latter.
If the Lib-Dems tried to bring down the government, then Labour would be presented with a massive dilemma as to whether they supported such a move or not. I suspect that at the end of the day, if they were going to appear credible, they would have to support the moves to bring the current Parliament to an end – anything else would be a tacit endorsement for the policies of the coalition.
My hunch is that none of the main parties have the stomach for a general election at the moment and that only a wholescale parliamentary revolt by the Lib-Dems will force the coalition to an end – but as that seems unlikely, the sad reality is that we’re probably set for at least another year of the Coalition.