On Thursday night’s This Week, Diane Abbot warned Sarah Teather that the voters of Brent would not look kindly upon the Liberal Democrats if, in the next parliament, they chose to prop up a Tory government. This was prompted by the sight of the parties’ leaders, Nick Clegg and David Cameron, standing shoulder-to-shoulder in front of the cameras on a popular moral issue. They looked comfortable together, and Clegg received an awful lot of media praise for his performance. As even muck-raking Guido pointed out, this all had strategic implications for a future – hung or narrowly won – parliament.
Abbot, like everyone else, is aware, however, that the LibDem electorate is split between northern left-wingers upset with Labour and cuddly West Country Tories. Teather pointed out that in a three-party system it is the job of all parties to take votes off all other parties, but even in this optimistic analysis of British politics, the LibDems are notably worse off than either of the other two. Yet Political Betting has a useful graph showing that more than three quarters of LibDem voters want to see more evidence of palliness with the Tories. Are these Brent voters? Who knows, but such numbers don’t spell confused meltdown for the party.
Under Nick Clegg, the party have undoubtedly shifted rightwards: not only was Clegg related to the Orange Book group back in the day; he has committed the party now to reducing the basic rate of tax, raising the threshold on inheritance tax, and slashing stamp duty. These polices probably can’t last a debt-burdened recession, but the party’s direction is clear. Reports today of Blairite defections to the LibDems only reinforce the impression of a rightward drift under Clegg, and a concomitant turn towards a resurgent Tory party.
A good week for the party leadership, yes. But a good week for left-wing liberals? Much less so.