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David Steel raises possibility of "exit strategy"

By Tim Montgomerie

How long will the Coalition last? In his column for The Observer Andrew Rawnsley says that the Liberal Democrats have a big interest in making it go the whole way because that will prove that parties can work together and that will kill the fear of future hung parliaments:

"By the end of the five years, if the coalition manages to last that long, Nick Clegg hopes to be able to say that the Lib Dems have proved that they can do government, even in the toughest possible circumstances, and that coalition can work for Britain into the future. That grand strategic objective is a sound one – in fact, it is the only one that makes any sense for the Lib Dems. But first he has to get his party intact through the dark valley of the spending squeeze. And then he will have to find an almost entirely new set of voters."

In The Sunday Telegraph Matthew d'Ancona says that there could be big gains for Clegg's party if he stays the course and the economy turns upwards by 2015:

"If, by 2015, the deficit is cleared, or near enough, and the economy is flourishing once more, who gets the credit? If the Lib Dems have spent the entire Parliament as surly junior partners, grumbling behind their hands to anyone who will listen about the nightmare of being in hock to the Tories, they will receive no electoral reward for the Coalition’s accomplishments: and rightly so.""

I agree with both of these analyses but the LibDems can get both of these benefits but still pursue an "exit strategy" near the end of the Parliament. Quoted in The Sunday Express the former Liberal leader David Steel is the first to publicly raise the prospect:

"He said: “The truth is we had no option but to go into coalition with the Tories. Now we’ve got to make damn sure it works.” Lord Steel, 72, warned that “when the cuts start to bite” the party should brace itself for a rough ride – and he urged Nick Clegg to draw up an “exit strategy” before the election."

This has to be a real possibility. Six, twelve or eighteen months before polling day I wouldn't be surprised if the LibDems stop supporting the Tories - but stop short of bringing the government down - and adopt a strategy of recovering left-of-centre voters. All will depend upon the strength of the economy by then.

One thing I've worried about for sometime is the implications for the Coalition of bad results for the LibDems in next year's Scottish elections but it is perfectly possible that Labour - like in 1999 and 2003 - will go into another Holyrood coalition with the LibDems. This double coalition deal could be an important tool for Clegg to keep his Left happy and for the new Labour leader to open the door to a future LibLab deal at Westminster.


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