How big a risk is Nick Clegg taking?
You don’t have to spend much time ploughing through the comments on PBC to work out that the most ferocious attacks on the Tories are not from Labour supporters but from Lib Dems. Those who work for the party in areas where the Conservatives are their main opponents are usually the most vocal – and this is reciprocated.
So how are these Lib Dem supporters going to view the statements today by their new leader, Nick Clegg, in the Financial Times saying his party “could” support a minority Conservative government after the next election.
This is getting onto tricky territory and, clearly, Clegg is using his honeymoon period to get controversial ideas out early. It’s much harder to oppose a leader in his first six months than later. Certainly his predecessor, Ming Campbell, ran into serious trouble eleven months ago when at a conference in Harrogate he gave the strong impression that there could be no deals with the Tories.
Of course Clegg attaches conditions to his comments but as the FT notes, these are fairly similar to what Cameron was saying on the weekend before Clegg’s election.
The real problem is on the ground in both opposition parties. The most highly contested seats at the next election, bearing in mind what happened last time, will be CON>LD and LD>CON marginals. Turnout will be much higher than where Labour is in contention or defending and there will be a lot more activity.
The crazy thing from both Cameron’s and Clegg’s point of view is that such fights will have zero impact on whether Labour retains its majority or not. It’s Labour seats where the battle-ground will be not the side-show of LD-Tory contests.
My sense is that Clegg is being quite smart politically. The sentiments he has expressed might make it easier to defend Lib Dem incumbents who are facing a strong Tory challenge.