Party identities in the coalition era

As we enter the Party Conference season, I have already seen the predictable Liberal Democrat comments against the Conservatives, and Conservative comments complaining about the same.

I may be in a minority, or I may be in a majority, when I say: er, so what?

Throughout the duration of their existence, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats have been two separate parties, with two differing sets of policies and driven by two different sets of ideologies.

In May 2010, despite a swing to the Conservatives of 5%, David Cameron’s party fell 19 seats short of achieving an overall majority in the House of Commons. As a result, Mr Cameron offered to enter into negotiations with Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrat to form a coalition government in the national interest.

After concessions were made on either side, the new coalition government took power on 11 May, led by the Coalition Agreement hammered out in the days preceding.

Note the terminology used: coalition, agreement, national interest.

On 11 May 2010 the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats did not merge as political parties and cease having two differing sets of policies driven by two different sets of ideologies. No, these still exist, and there is no reason why they should not continue to do so.

After the election, both parties recognised the need to form a strong, stable government to take the difficult decisions necessary for Britain. For the Liberal Democrats, that meant stomaching cuts and, most controversially, tuition fee rises. For the Conservatives, a referendum on AV and a constant voice of conscience from their junior partners.

More than two years on, and following a few setbacks, it would be fair to say the honeymoon is a near-faded memory. Each party feels reason to feel annoyed with the other, though are (usually) careful when considering whether (or not) to make their feelings public.

Being in government under such an agreement is not a reason to stifle free speech, the bedrock of British society. The Liberal Democrats feel aggrieved over reform of the House of Lords, let them say so. The Conservatives feel aggrieved over their response in opposing boundary reforms, let them say so as well.

It may make good reading in the media, it may even play in the hands of the Labour Party, but it is not going to stop the business of coalition government and making the important,difficult decisions between now and 2015.

And, crucially, sitting in a circle around a purple dinosaur singing “I love you, you love me” is not going to change the fact that, in 2015, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats are going to be fighting two different campaigns, with two different sets of policies driven by two different sets of ideologies.

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