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Lib-Dems are in power by fluke, not public mandate.

Byline: David Higgerson

IF I WAS a Tory MP, I'd probably be asking myself whether my party was really currently in power. At times, it doesn't feel like it.

Nick Clegg, wearing his Lib-Dem leader hat for the week as his party holds conference in Birmingham, insists the yellow end of the coalition is punching above its weight.

He's got a point. It does feel, at the moment, as though the Lib-Dems are hell bent on opposing anything they don't like. And for the coalition as a whole, that's potentially very bad news.

As I mentioned last week, the frankly revolting way the Lib-Dems orchestrated a political campaign about the abortion debate left a bad taste in the mouth. The message from the Lib-Dems was clear: Allow abortion reform and we'll block the NHS bill.

Over the weekend, the Lib-Dems spoke vocally about blocking any plans to cut the 50p top rate of tax. To be frank, much as it might make economic sense to scrap the top rate of tax, the Tories know too well that it would be political suicide among many voters to push ahead with the plan - so is it really a victory for the Lib-Dems? And that's the problem for the coalition. With the Lib-Dems currently languishing at 11% in the polls, the party's leadership needs to do something to win over some voters.

But painting everything as a victory for the Lib-Dems isn't the way to do it.

Coalition should be about picking your battles, not trying to win everything. The Lib-Dems are, ultimately, the junior partner in the coalition and should remember that. They are in power by fluke, not public mandate.

Both Clegg and David Cameron announced their coalition by warning that tough decisions had to be made. The Lib-Dems, it seems, have tolerated the tough decisions while getting used to the trappings of power but are now having second thoughts.

Those second thoughts might have something to do with their poor show in the May local elections but it's not all bad news.

According to a Sunday Mirror poll, 53% of people don't think Clegg has been a good leader of the Lib-Dems, while 20% do think he's been a good leader and 27% are undecided.

In other words, roughly half don't think he's done a bad job.

There's an opportunity there - but Clegg needs to show he's in charge of his party, and not just saying what they want to hear. That could mean having to shift some of the senior Lib-Dems who once held public sway, but who have been found lacking in government office. The Lib-Dems without Vince Cable at the forefront? Probably for the best.
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Title Annotation:Letters
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Sep 20, 2011
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