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"Humiliated" Liberal Democrats want more concessions from Cameron in time for Party Conference season

By Tim Montgomerie

Yesterday was a big day for the Coalition. Theresa May announced her police reforms. The Commons voted for Michael Gove's Academies Bill. Jeremy Hunt took an axe to some quangoes. Each of these stories are covered on the Parliament pages and each of them should bring delight to Tory supporters. But it is the politics of the Coalition and, in particular, the weakness of the Liberal Democrats' position that continues to capture the attention of most politicians and commentators.

YouGov have been showing Liberal Democrat support sliding to 13% to 15% (although one ICM survey for today's Guardian has them at 19%). A Populus poll commissioned by Lord Ashcroft suggested that the Liberal Democrats could lose nearly all of their seats where the Tories are in second place. A ComRes poll for last night's Newsnight found that 4 in 10 people who voted Liberal Democrat at the last election regretted their vote.

The Liberal Democrats are suffering from two main problems:

  • The natural squeeze on any junior partner in coalition government. George Parker reports (£) Angela Merkel's warning to Nick Clegg; “I know about coalitions. When the government is doing well, the larger party gets the credit and the smaller one loses. When things go badly, both parties lose.” The German Chancellor struggled to envisage a situation, continues the FT's Parker, where the smaller party won.
  • The loss of left-leaning supporters. The LibDems have always been a coalition of Tory-leaning, Labour-leaning and genuinely committed Liberal voters. The Labour-leaning voters have understandably walked away since the deal with the Tories. It's far from clear that they'll come back without something electric from the Coalition.

Rachel Sylvester in her Times (£) column says that "the humiliations come almost daily" for the Liberal Democrats:

"The VAT “bombshell” the Lib Dems campaigned against was introduced in the Budget. Vince Cable’s proposal for a graduate tax was promptly slapped down by “Conservative sources”. Mr Clegg’s assertion, during Prime Minister’s Questions, that the Iraq war was illegal was condemned as a “gaffe” rather than a principled statement of a long-held view."

There is now a deliberate Downing Street operation underway to bolster Liberal Democrat support for the Coalition. Lord Ashcroft's Populus survey found that just 21% of voters in marginal seats thought that Clegg had made a "significant" impact on the Coalition's policies. The LibDems are determined to lift that number and are seeking a series of announcements during the party conference season to prove that they are making a difference.

What they most want is a handful of policy concessions that are clearly uncomfortable for the Tories. Rachel Sylvester notes Vince Cable's plan for a "Cadbury’s law to prevent large multinationals swallowing up small organisations." A senior Liberal Democrat tells her that “the acid test is whether Cameron will do something he really doesn’t want to do, as opposed to something he really wants to do but couldn’t manage to get past his rightwingers without being in a coalition.”

All this is more proof of Montgomerie's Law of the Coalition: "This Coalition is heading for breakdown or it's heading Leftwards. The Left of the Liberal Democrats will demand an end to the Coalition if Nick Clegg doesn't get more and more concessions from David Cameron."


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