I didn’t think that Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats would be able to come to a deal with David Cameron and the Conservatives. Looks like I got it wrong.
It was on, then looked off and now it is finally back on again. And it is apparently a formal coalition, not just a loose agreement of support.
Technically the Lib Dem party structures still need to agree this deal. That’s just a formality, isn’t it? Surely the whole thing couldn’t fall apart now?
But how can a Liberal Democrat Party that stood in the election on a platform of fairer tax, electoral reform and civil liberties make a deal with a Conservative Party that promises massive, immediate cuts in public expenditure and tax breaks for the rich? And also, let’s remember that Nick Clegg kept telling us that the two “old parties” had nothing to offer.
There are also very real policy differences between the two parties on key issues like Europe, immigration and defence. How have these issues been resolved – or have they simply been swept under the carpet?
We know that the Tories have agreed to a referendum on the Alternatives Vote being used in future UK elections. This is not the Lib Dems preferred voting method, but it seems they are willing to deal on that basis. There are no guarantees that a referendum will be won, of course.
Clearly this agreement is all good news for David Cameron. He will finally be able to move into number 10 as Prime Minister. OK, he would have preferred to govern alone, although this is the next best thing. He now gets the chance to put his policies into practice.
But is it actually a good thing for Nick Clegg and his party?
On the positive side, they could gain some form of electoral reform after a referendum, a long term aim of the party. But the Alternative Vote is not proportional and would not give many more MPs. They will have seats in the Cabinet and therefore have a real influence over the governance of the country, as well as an opportunity for its leading lights to build a reputation in government. Clegg will reportedly become Depute Prime Minister.
But on the negative side, they are now inextricably tied to the Tories in the public eye. And that will not go down well with an awful lot of their core voters.
They will also be bound into the coalition government for a period by the terms of the deal – it sounds like this could be three or four years. If it all goes badly wrong they simply cannot get out of this without being seen as going back on their word.
And finally the Lib Dems will share responsibility for the cuts that will come – and quickly. It appears they have agreed to £6bn of cuts being made this year. How will that go down with party members?
Clegg has now pinned his political future to the coat tails of David Cameron. He has to believe that the benefits will be worth the potential backlash that will undoubtedly come from the left of his own party. But can he make enough of the situation to enhance his reputation and go into the next general election in a stronger position? Or will there be fallout from this deal that damages his party?
We can be sure that Labour, under whichever leader is elected, will continually stress that there is only one main opposition party. And it will argue that Labour will be the only progressive alternative to two parties joined in a right wing coalition. The next election will be far more polarised.
Nick Clegg has effectively gambled that joining with the Conservatives to form a government can be turned to a positive in future elections.
Only time will tell whether he has made the correct call.