Are we approaching the time of the Liberal Democrat?

Posted on July 6, 2009

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Much has been written about the impending fall of the Labour Party and the seemingly inevitable rise to power of David Cameron’s Tories. The press focus on the death throes of Labour while questioning what exactly a Conservative government would do. Analysts debate whether next year’s election will be about spending vs cuts, as Brown would have it, or honesty vs dishonesty, as Cameron would). Yet, though the polls show a significant lead for the Conservative Party, a Cameron premiership is by no means inevitable.

Current polls suggest that the Tories hold a lead of ten points, or thereabouts, over Labour. Should these polls prove correct, then Cameron’s party would indeed be the strongest in Parliament. Yet the party is by no means guaranteed a majority. Labour ministers are by all accounts seriously contemplating the possibility of a hung Parliament, a scenario which would result in Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats holding the balance of power. The possibility of a so-called ‘progressive alliance’, such as the one that Tony Blair unsuccessfully attempted to build after the Labour victory in 1997, would then rear its head. The difference between 1997 and 2010, however, is that Labour would need Lib Dem support to stay in power. In order to guarantee this, they would have to give in to some long-term Lib Dem demands, most notably proportional representation.

A Tory victory, it seems, is very likely, though a year is a long time in politics and there is no real evidence that the unpopularity of Labour necessarily means popularity for Cameron, Osborne et al. There is no positive aura around the Tories now of the sort that surrounded New Labour pre-1997. Smaller parties could yet gain more than one might expect, and we saw the signs of this at the recent local and European elections. Even if the Tories do win, however, an absolute majority is by no means guaranteed, and the Liberal Democrats would then find themselves in a pivotal position to determine the course of British politics. One should not rule out a Tory-Liberal agreement, but the smart money would be on a progressive alliance between Brown (if he survives) and Clegg. With both Brown and Cameron still not at all certain of their own power within both the country and their respective parties, it could just be that Nick Clegg, a figure so seemingly powerless that he is for the most part neglected by the media and by the leaders of the two major parties, becomes the most powerful man in the country come May next year.

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Posted in: Politics