Coalition will last full term, says Kennedy

8 Jun 10
The coalition government will be plagued by tensions but is likely to ride out a five-year term, according to the former leader of the Liberal Democrats
By Lucy Phillips

9 June 2010

The coalition government will be plagued by tensions but is likely to ride out a five-year term, according to the former leader of the Liberal Democrats.

Charles Kennedy, party head from 1999 to 2006, told delegates yesterday that he would not have formed a centre-Right alliance in the immediate aftermath of May’s general election.

He admitted that he had tried to ‘engineer’ some sort of centre-Left partnership but had ‘completely failed’.

A deal with the Tories became the only option, he argued. Allowing Conservative leader David Cameron to form a minority government would probably have led to another general election in six months time, and the LibDems being ‘smashed’, Kennedy said. ‘People want to keep their jobs,’ he added.

But the ‘curious set-up’ will not be an easy ride, particularly when it comes to decisions about spending cuts and tax rises in the forthcoming Budget.

‘This Budget is not going to be the land of milk and honey,’ he said. ‘There are going to be some tough issues that come up... there will be things there that become really quite difficult for some of the folk I know.’

Kennedy added that many of the LibDem rank and file were still ‘really pinching themselves’ about being in power after 70 years, and he was not expecting ‘great bust-ups’ by the autumn party conference season.

But, he said, there would be tensions and skirmishes. ‘I think there is an inevitable combustion about politics.’

Past experience was also against them, he added. ‘When I read the history books it seems to me that we should see that the Liberal tradition in politics does not tend to blossom when it gets into a coalition with the Tories.’

However, Kennedy, who won more LibDem seats in the 2005 general election than the party’s current leader Nick Clegg did this year, said there was too much at stake for his successor and the prime minister to let the coalition fail before its parliamentary term was up.

‘I think the thing about this coalition is that there is now so much vested in it from both ends that it seems to me it will succeed and sustain. If it does not what is the alternative?’

He also pledged not to stand in its way,  having recently revealed in a national newspaper than he had not formally voted in favour of an alliance with the Tories. ‘I will not create any more problems than I already have in the House of Commons. It’s important that we succeed.’

Kennedy welcomed the ‘interesting convergence between a certain kind of Conservative thinking and a long tradition of Liberal thinking’ that could lead to more spending and tax decisions being made at local level.

But he admitted such localism, which he later described as a ‘quantum leap’ from current arrangements, would be achieved for ‘the wrong reasons’ - namely pushing down the blame and limiting in-party fights.   

Kennedy also revealed to delegates that the Labour party was ‘in very good form’ at the moment – buoyant after not losing the election as badly as it feared and in the midst of a new leadership competition.

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