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Monday, January 28, 2013

David Laws on coalitions

There is an interesting feature on Liberal Democrats Minister, David Laws in today's Independent. The article though is most noteworthy for his views on coalitions and how the public may view them in future:

The Liberal Democrats' 2015 pitch is already clear. "We don't have confidence that Labour is serious on economic policy, or that the Conservatives have a strong enough policy commitment to creating a fairer society," said Mr Laws.

The Lib Dems have always offered both but might be taken more seriously next time. A silver lining to the cuts?

"Perhaps in the past people have known we stood for a fairer society but have wondered whether we could take some of the tough decisions on the economy. After this parliament, they will not be in any doubt about the economy and we have to go on demonstrating we are serious about a fairer society.

"Any second coalition is going to be challenging for the third party. You are either with the same party and the challenge is to make sure you continue to assert your identity. Or suddenly you are seen by the public to swap one party for another. There is no easy choice for the Lib Dems. We will be equidistant from the other two parties. Last time the [parliamentary] arithmetic was overwhelmingly the powerful factor. The public will decide it next time. Our influence will be much smaller than people tend to assume."

In 2010, the Liberal Democrats envisaged the two coalition parties would gradually diverge as the next election got nearer.

"It has not been the straight line we expected," said Mr Laws. "It is a more cyclical thing. You can have periods marked by greater disagreements and periods where there are swing-backs.

"The Coalition has matured massively in the last six months. There have been serious disagreements over Lords reform, parliamentary boundaries, Leveson, the autumn statement, climate-change policies.

"That is very healthy. It is quite possible to disagree one moment on an issue of fundamental importance and then reach agreement in a very mature and civil way on other policies."

Although coalitions have been rare in Britain, Mr Laws argued that the Government was "a model of decisive decision-making". He said: "We have shown that coalitions can be stable entities that deliver good government and radical changes. The country has absolutely nothing to fear from coalitions in future. No party will be able to frighten the electorate about the prospect of a hung parliament. In 2010 people said a coalition would collapse after five minutes and do nothing radical on policy. That is nonsense."

Mr Laws believes the last year of the five-year parliament will see the coalition partners display "a much greater sense of their separate identities", but warned that they would get no credit if they spent the last 12 months "bickering". He hopes most big policy decisions will be completed by then. He expects Liberal Democrat ministers to stay in their posts up to polling day in 2015. "To suddenly proclaim independence in the last dregs of the parliament would not be very plausible."
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