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The Lib Dems could cut their losses and leave the Coalition early?

February 1st, 2013

Henry G Manson on Friday

The fallout from the abandonment in boundary changes is already leading to recriminations. The latest upshot from the Conservative Party is to tap into the anger of large donors and target even more Liberal Democrat MPs held seats ahead of 2015. This will delight a number of Conservative MPs and the increasing number apparently frustrated with the Coalition. But it is not without risk.

The firm assumption for some time has been that the Coalition will last almost to the end of this parliament. This was based on the fact that the Liberal Democrats were polling so badly that they would face near extinction. At the same time Lib Dems have argued and that the economy would improve and the yellow team could receive a share of the spoils. Both of these factors are now less certain.

    Lib Dems polling numbers are still well down from their 2010 election level, but they have creeped up in recent months. The last ICM poll had Clegg’s party on 15%. Who is to say that it wouldn’t get to 17% or 18% in the next 6 months?

Meanwhile we have passed the mid-point of the parliament and the economy is well off course. The promised 6% growth between the election and now has not materialised and the Office of Budget Responsibility has been hopelessly optimistic to date. Even then, they still forecast choppy waters ahead with unemployment increasing this year and next until a drop in the first quarter of 2015. There is very little margin for error so soon before the next election and no guarantee of a ‘feel good’ mood sweeping the nation.

While the two main reasons for sticking until 2015 looking less certain, the prospect of even greater Conservative resources being piled into more constituencies would mean that every passing month could make their job of defending Lib Dem seats that bit harder.

    The longer Lib Dems leave the election, potentially the tougher the task their MPs will face. Liberal Democrats know only too well that the Conservatives will not pull their punches when it comes to battle.

They remember only too well the No 2 AV campaign, bankrolled by their Coalition partners, which attacked Nick Clegg for making compromises and breaking manifesto policies on tuition fees.

Should it become apparent that the economy is not sufficiently improving and the Lib Dem polling numbers remain above 14% then it would be reasonable to consider pulling the plug and walking away from the Coalition. The Liberal Democrats could explain that they had supported Conservatives in the national interest in 2010, but that it was now in the national interest to explore a different economic pace and direction.

Already Nick Clegg has put distance between his party and the Treasury’s early decisions to cut infrastructure spending. What’s to stop his team from going further this year?

The most likely outcome is the Coalition continuing deep into the scheduled five term parliament. However the reasons to stay the course are not as politically endearing as they once were. Glossy Conservative newsheets and direct mail flying through the doors of homes in Lib Dem constituencies might persuade their MPs to walk away from the Coalition and probably cause an election the Conservatives could not win. Clegg’s team should not rule it out. Sometimes is better to cut your losses.

Henry G Manson