Alex Hilton: Can Cable save the coalition?

The media response to Ed Miliband's elevation is a little overblown and it will have to settle as he fails to live down to the Daily Mail's expectations. But even now, the polls say Labour is heading for a majority, with the Liberal Democrats looking at winning maybe 11 or 12 seats.

Alex Hilton
Alex Hilton

It is clear the Lib Dems feel tied to the Conservative Party gamble - that things will get better before the next general election and that people will understand and support the coalition.

But there is one strategy that might indemnify the Lib Dems from the risk associated with that gamble.

Things will get worse for the Lib Dems and there will be a crisis point for Nick Clegg. Most likely, it will be a failure to win over the public in the AV referendum next spring, but there won't be a shortage of legislative issues in the next two years that could cause Clegg a headache.

And while right now the Lib Dems are absolutely opposed to an electoral pact, there will come a day when that will look like the only viable option for 30 or so Lib Dem MPs to keep their seats. Like Mephistopheles, David Cameron will make them an offer they can't refuse, and they will take it.

At that point, the Lib Dems will cease to be an independent political party, which is why Cameron will be able to sell it to his own troops. But there is a way out of this electoral cul-de-sac for the Lib Dems. In two to three years' time, after a pact has been agreed, the Lib Dems can elect Vince Cable as their leader.

Simply, the Lib Dems are having a hard time selling to the public that they got anything significant from the coalition deal, and anything significant they did get isn't necessarily going to be relevant to the public in five years' time. But by exercising their power, effectively, to appoint a Deputy Prime Minister, they will reopen negotiations on the coalition, credibly showing the public they have achieved something through the accommodation with the Conservatives, that they are continuing to achieve concessions and that they were worth voting for after all.

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