Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Forget coalitions - we want 100 MPs!

Picture the scene: It is the Liberal Democrat party conference 2025, and the party are in high spirits. The leader stands on the stage and makes the welcoming speech to the faithful.

‘Not so long ago, it was said that the third party of British politics could travel to parliament in a taxi. Well, look how we travel now.’

At this stage a long line of London black cabs drive in and the occupants disembark.

‘Conference, I give you 100 Liberal Democrat MPs’ – as they all line up on the stage in front of an audience cheering and applauding warmly.
The word ‘coalition’ was never mentioned in British politics during the 1980s and 1990s – yet since 2010, we have heard nothing else. There is a general obsession with two topics – when will the UK government Tory-Lib Dem coalition end – and what will the next coalition look like after 2015?

There has been much speculation about the result of the 2015 general election – if it is another hung parliament, which way will the Liberal Democrats tread? Will we stay with the Tories or jump off with Labour? Indeed, will the Lib Dems become regular kingmakers?

It was a correct decision to go into coalition after the 2010 general election – but I have to ask – is the status of junior partner the height of our ambitions? Do we just want to tag along in a series of coalitions? It is right to be open to working with those of like minds – but are we not forgetting that we are our own party, with our own policies, principles and beliefs? And, the biggest prize of all, do we not all desire to see a Liberal Democrat Prime Minister walking into Number 10?

With whom would we enter these coalitions? We know the Conservative party cannot be trusted – their backbench MPs delight in the fact that their leader cannot speak for them. But how would we stand with Labour, who at the end of the day will always work with the Conservatives if it meant frustrating Liberal Democrat ambitions? The bottom line is that we will do badly out of either coalition option.

Whatever the result of the 2015 election, and assuming we are not the biggest party, I would like to see us back in opposition – not in blind opposition, but voting with the government if we agree with them and campaigning against on matters we do not.

Meanwhile we build and we build. We’ve taken knocks in the recent local elections, and we have more to come – and, let’s be frank, we will lose some MPs in 2015. But I want us to use the period after that to rebuild and reinvigorate our party, our local government base, and our support – and then from 2020, a full-on offensive in certain target constituencies and see how far we can go.

I expect many reading this piece will argue that, under first-past-the-post, we will never get 100 MPs. But look at this page - http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/guide/liberal-democrat-target-seats. As you can see, as well as our 57 MPs, small swings towards us in target seats will result in more victories coming our way. A swing of 3.5% from the Conservatives gives us 18 seats. A swing of 2% from Labour gives us ten more. Ambitious? Yes, of course. But why not? If we can go from 20 seats in 1995 to 62 in 2005 – trebling our parliamentary party in ten years – why can’t we keep going?

So my request to the party is to stop talking coalition and start talking Liberal Democrat. Let’s aim for those 100 MPs. Let’s get more Liberal Democrats into parliament!