I admit that this coalition wasn’t exactly my preferred option but I've come round, says the former Lib Dem leaderby Charles Kennedy / April 20, 2011 / Leave a comment
Published in May 2011 issue of Prospect Magazine
Plenty of commentators are busy trying to paint the Liberal Democrats into a crisis. We would be well advised to ignore them. Personally, I’m not of the meltdown mentality. Politics is a marathon, never a sprint. But there are other reasons for optimism, too.
I admit that this coalition wasn’t exactly my preferred option. I’ve always considered myself in the reforming, centre-left tradition, so a centre-right arrangement puts my compass in a spin. I also worried that Liberal-Conservative tie-ups, historically, have not tended to end up happily for Liberals. But those of us who genuinely wanted to explore other routes—from a rainbow coalition to a minority Tory administration—were sunk when figures like David Blunkett and John Reid were so against it. I’m in no doubt that a sizeable swathe within Labour were happier in the luxury of opposition, knowing how hard economically things would be. Much of their outrage at coalition decisions they would have probably taken themselves is synthetic at best.
Once the deal was done, I was in no doubt it would endure for this parliament. Even Ed Miliband, despite some of his leadership campaign rhetoric, seems to have concluded he’s in long-haul opposition. Ironically, the tougher the going gets, the more it tends to pull coalition government ministers together. Ultimately, it is in everyone’s interests that it succeeds.
There is no doubt that, so far, the Lib Dems have had the tougher end of public reception to the coalition. But our experience isn’t that dissimilar to other junior coalition partners in comparable European systems. We must work hard to highlight those areas where our involvement is producing quite different policy outcomes than might otherwise have been the case.
One of the key issues is Europe. During the first half of his premiership, Blair could have slain the Eurosceptic dragon for a political generation. I also should have done more on this as party leader. Now, the ultra-Euros…