As many people are aware I have been a Liberal politician for many years, indeed I have been an elected councillor since 1983 and have on three occasions been a parliamentary candidate. Also, as people who have heard me rant will know, I am decidedly left of centre. So, what do I think about my party being in coalition with the Conservatives?
Well, mostly, I think it is the least bad option. Let's start by looking at the key fact.
The country has voted for a coalition, i.e. for none of us.
We in the LibDems would rather have done a deal with Labour (well most of us would - I am not sure about one or two of our leaders), but Labour back-benchers and ex-ministers torpedoed that. Check out what John Reid, David Blunket, and Tom Harris were doing and saying whilst Labour and LibDem negotiators were meeting. As I understand it the deal that was offered by Labour was to vote for their manifesto, rather than to combine our policies (Labour got 29% of the vote, LibDems got 23%). On top of that the Welsh Nats, Scots Nats, and Green said that Labour had not even bothered to phone them about an alternative deal - and an alternative would have needed all the progressive parties.
With Labour refusing to play, the two options left were a minority Conservative administration and an election in a few months when it broke down, and then probably a Conservative Government (because Labour and LibDems would be held to blame), or a LibDem/Con coalition.
Or to put that choice another way
a) LibDems could have kept their hands clean, but then we would have got a Conservative Government, with no brakes on the harm they could cause.
b) or LibDems could sup with the devil and aim to reduce the harm the Conservatives will do, and hopefully get a few good things changed along the way.
For example, at least with the Conservatives we’ll get an all elected House of Lords, with PR, and remove the poorest from income tax (i.e. everybody earning under £10,000 a year), both of which Labour would not have given us (according to news from the negotiations with Labour).
A week ago I would not have considered a LibDem coalition as a viable or moral alternative, but now we have it, I hope, I really hope, it works. If it goes wrong then the electorate are mostly to blame - for once they have got exactly what they voted for, and close behind them those parts of the Labour party (probably a minority) who refused create a progressive alliance.
Can it work? Well, from 2003 to 2007 I was in a coalition running Gedling Borough Council, the Cabinet was made of 3 Conservatives, 3 Labour, and 1 LibDem (me). That coalition lasted the whole four years, we never got to the point of liking each other, but the Council was better run during those four years then before or since, partly because it was able to draw on all the talents and there all too few talents in local politics (it is now run by the Conservatives because Labour lost too many seats to the Conservatives in the 2007 election - we won two extra seats, but that still meant we were in opposition).
ps here is a link to what is in the agreement, the civil liberties section is very good, rolling back some of the Labour attacks on liberties such as the DNA database and the attacks on trial by jury