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Why the Lib Dems won't pull the plug on the Coalition

By Jonathan Isaby

LIBERAL-DEMOCRATS Yesterday, Paul explained why he believes there is no likelihood of an early general election, and I agree with him.

I have thought for some time that the Coalition will last the distance of the five-year term and so was particularly heartened to see no less well-connected  a Lib Dem than Mark Pack of Lib Dem Voice setting out in a blog post a few weeks ago seven reasons why the Coalition looks set to last.

I agree with his analysis - although I believe that the Lib Dems will be waiting a very long time for a predominantly-elected House of Lords: it may have been in the Coalition agreement, but getting it through the Conservative parliamentary party and indeed the House of Lords itself will be something of a tall order, and - rather like AV - it is not an issue on which there is a massive public clamour in their favour. However, that's for another day.

As a number of Lib Dems have ramped up the anti-Tory rhetoric in the last few weeks (Tim Farron being the latest yesterday), there has been increasing speculation that they may be manoeuvring to extricate themselves from the Coalition - and sooner rather than later.

But I simply don't buy it. Here's why.

We are a week away from elections across Scotland, Wales and most of England where Lib Dems are fighting the Conservatives on the ground. There was always bound to be increased tension in the run-up to these elections as the parties - especially the Lib Dems - seek to emphasise their individual identities, but it amounts to little more than electoral grandstanding.

But won't the Lib Dems want to be out of the Coalition if they get an electoral drubbing next week and lose the AV referendum, as the polls are increasingly certain will happen?

Again, there may be attempts by some Lib Dems to turn it into a scenario where they make demands for more concessions (which David Cameron should resist, as party members overwhelmingly agreed last week), but such politicking would not be the precursor to calls for quitting the Coalition.

Frankly, the Liberal Democrats would be finished as a serious political party if they were to walk away from the Coalition after one set of poor election results. Governing parties of all colours have regularly taken a hit at mid-term elections: welcome to the perils and pitfalls of government, my friends. Quitting the Coalition in that context would suggest to the British people that the Lib Dems are a party that can't handle power and they would surely never be afforded access to a red box or ministerial car ever again.

And as for the referendum, well: they were the ones who wanted it, they got it and the people are going to give their verdict next week - and the Lib Dems will have to accept that verdict whether they like it or not.

In the longer term, don't forget that a considerable proportion of the Liberal Democrat MPs have a personal interest in the Coalition continuing: 18 of their 57 MPs are salaried ministers or whips, with a handful of others serving as PPSs and others ambitious to get a government job later in the Parliament.

This is the first chance any of them have had in a lifetime to do anything from a position of power - and I really cannot see them giving it up prematurely.

And if they were to pull the plug on the Coalition later in the Parliament, it's not as if their poll rating would suddenly return to pre-general election levels. The public would view them as opportunistic, unreliable, unwilling to stay a course and, as I suggested above, unable to handle power.

Most Lib Dems realise this, and hence agree that their best bet is to stay where they are in the Coalition.


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