Tag Archives: General Election

Miliband can defeat his critics and Cameron’s leadership by reinventing the nature of opposition


Like it or not, love him or loathe him, David Cameron has proved himself to be a competent and capable leader in his first year in Number 10. He has shown himself to be easily the most adaptable Prime Minister of the 21st century and perhaps the most versatile and formidable party leader too. He has embraced the unique hurdles and challenges of coalition government to at once deliver radical policy his party believes in and please the electorate. He has vowed not to make the mistake of Tony Blair’s early years, in which political capital went unspent. He’s taken a blitzkrieg approach to numerous important issues and departments, somehow taking most of the country with him through a combination of confidence and yellow human shields.

Ed Miliband on the other hand, has been constantly under fire from both the media and Britain as a whole, and his own party. His leadership is generally, and not unjustifiably, characterised as ineffectual and inactive. He has more often than not chosen to stand by and do nothing but protest vocally at government plans. He has claimed to be the voice of Britain’s ordinary people and its “progressive majority”. His critics say that this majority doesn’t exist and even those that think it might, recognise that it has to be earned and forged from blood, sweat, tears and most crucially of all, policy.

Labour under Ed Miliband has produced almost no policy. His supporters and aides will argue that he’s been focusing on healing Labour’s image, bruised and battered by thirteen years of controversial government. But there has been no clear rebranding or change of direction either. The publication of elder brother David’s would-be acceptance speech last week highlighted just how much more Ed could have done from the start. I was critical of David’s lazy leadership campaign and even praised Ed’s more concrete vision. Looking at David Miliband’s speech though, it’s hard to argue with those who say he would be doing better as leader right now.

The speech sets out the deficit as Britain’s key political argument. It simultaneously does more to defend Labour’s record in government and admit its mistakes than Ed has done. It systematically addresses key areas with attractive focus; Ed’s speech tended to waffle more generally, focusing on alerting the world to the fact that he was an alright sort of guy. Well now we all want to know what he’s going to do to prove it.

To make things worse for the victorious Miliband, his shadow cabinet has hardly had time to settle. Alan Johnson didn’t last long as Shadow Chancellor. There has already been more than one reshuffle. Ed Balls, finally in the role he has craved for so long, is Labour’s only ray of activity. Last week he announced the one concrete policy they have in opposition; increase the bonus tax on bankers. Balls intends to gather support from rebellious Lib Dem and even Conservative MPs to push a Bill through Parliament that would take more money from the banks to fund employment schemes for the young and house building projects; to stop the rot on growth.

Now it’s obvious that one of Miliband’s weak points has been his inability to do much else besides bash the banks. Credible Prime Ministers cannot afford to make such powerful enemies or be defined by the one headline grabbing policy. But the plans of his money man Ed Balls are exactly the type of thing Labour should be doing more of. The government’s refusal to invest in the economy or change course on its programme of cuts is doing lasting damage. Labour cannot afford to just talk about this. They should hit the coalition where it hurts; by acting to safeguard the national interest it claims to be working for.

And Miliband could go further. He could say that a Labour government would not just build homes for struggling first time buyers but insist that they are all green. Labour needs a new stamp that marks out policy as theirs, which goes further than simply investment vs. cuts. As David Miliband set out, Labour has to acknowledge that it will tackle the deficit; the question is how will it do it differently?

 Ed should make it abundantly clear that he is proposing policies for consideration now, intending to pass them now because to act too late would let the state of the economy and the government’s initiatives do irreparable harm. More house building would kick start the construction industry; more homes would get the property markets moving and add stability to a fragile, slow recovery.

Miliband has continually fallen back on the fact that the party in opposition traditionally keeps its cards close to its chest until an election. People should not be expecting him to be outlining detailed policy now, he says. I defended criticisms of him early on by using the argument that he shouldn’t rush through thinking about such important issues. But he has had time now. He must have some ideas. And he needs to start sharing them.

This is not an ordinary government. The coalition can be stalled, halted and persuaded on almost any issue. Parliament is not a sea of blue and carefully selected opposition proposals could become law. The NHS “listening exercise” and the rethink of Ken Clarke’s justice reform are examples from the past week alone where Cameron has been swayed enough to track back. Ed Miliband needs to do something bold to win the respect of voters. Disclosing genuine alternatives in full and frank detail will show that Labour care enough to act in the country’s interest, not their own.

I write just hours after both leaders in the contest for the nation’s political affections made important speeches on policy. As is the trend of late, it was David Cameron’s that made the greater impact. Speaking to a meeting in London of a foundation called GAVI, backed by Bill Gates, which provides vaccines for the world’s poor, the Prime Minister would have won over voters usually hostile to all things Tory.

His detoxification of his party has been enormously successful and pledging £814 million (the biggest donation of any nation) to an effective charity, goes a long way to satisfying his own voters, thanks to a clear strategy, and others in the electorate. With one speech Cameron scored moral points as well as talking convincingly about finding a clear foreign policy role for Britain based on duty, encouraging private sector growth and stable, democratic government.

Miliband’s speech was also important. It aimed to win back the agenda of community from Cameron, who has dominated the thinking of voters even with his unsuccessful Big Society idea. Miliband talked of responsibility and made surprisingly tough statements about those who didn’t give back not receiving welfare support. There were strong strains of the Blue Labour ideology Miliband recently endorsed, which focuses on democracy and accountability at the grass roots. It was about the overall narrative direction of Miliband’s leadership and designed to answer critics.

However whilst it’s important Miliband finds a stronger and more defined guiding vision for his party, action is what the public wants from him now. For an opposition leader options are limited, so action essentially means policy announcements. The Labour leader needs to be braver and take some gambles with his leadership, to both win over the country and protect it. No one will reward him for waiting until the election.

Advertisements

After AV and election humiliation: what next for Clegg and the Lib Dems?


The result was crushing. A firm no to electoral reform and a pummelling at local level for Lib Dem councillors is a devastating double whammy. The road back to even slight popularity will be rocky and steep, with huge risks of even further falls on the way. The media were quick to pounce on the misery of Clegg and the tensions within the coalition. Whilst exaggerated, there is no doubt that the coverage accurately reflects a permanent shift in the dynamic of the parties in partnership.

Firstly then why was the defeat so bad? And why did the Conservatives not only escape punishment but considerably strengthen their position with gains? In many ways it is pointless to dwell on the results. What’s done is done. Liberal Democrats across the board are declaring the need to move on and get on with the job, seemingly out of bitterness, but also out of practicality and necessity. It is perfectly understandable however that some big names, such as Cable and Huhne, have lashed out at their Tory coalition partners in the dizzying spiral of disappointment and defeat.

They feel, rightly, that their party has become a human shield. They feel that they are victims of immense unfairness, ironic given that the core of their policies on tax, education and indeed the voting system, are intended to increase fairness. The Liberal Democrats had to enter into coalition with the Conservatives. Labour was never a viable or democratic alternative. A minority Tory government would have been ineffective and lacked any Lib Dem input on policy, whether as a restraining or creative force.

They were damned if they did and damned if they didn’t. Clegg would never have been forgiven had he passed up the chance to introduce a host of coveted Liberal measures. As I’ve argued before Clegg also saw an opportunity to open up politics. By showing that coalitions could work, the old seesaw between Labour and the Conservatives would be challenged. Consensus and cross party collaboration would produce broader ideas and solutions to the bigger issues, in a 21st century where ideology is far less important than results, to voters at least.

Where they went wrong is debatable. There are obviously a range of reasons. But primarily it seems to be that too much eagerness and what’s been described as “personal chumminess” between Cameron and Clegg, was on display. The broken promises therefore appeared to be callous and genuine deception, rather than an inevitable concession from the minority partner in coalition. On tuition fees the Lib Dems made the mistake of trying to claim that the new policy was a better one because of changes they instigated. They needed to make a greater show of their overwhelming reluctance to charge fees at all, whilst still championing the restraining measures for fairness that were their doing.

Ultimately it all comes down to Clegg’s economic gamble though. I am still not sure just how fully he buys into George Osborne’s interpretation of the crisis and his drastic solution. It may well be that privately Clegg still stands by his pre-election comments, that the deficit should be reduced gradually with a focus on growth in the short term.  Adopting the Tory approach could be the primary price of going into government for the Lib Dems. But publicly he has signed his party up to comprehensive cuts in public spending that are at odds with the instincts of most Liberals. And you’d have to say that Clegg must believe the Conservative plan will eventually lead to growth, because if it doesn’t his party will be battered once more come the next General Election.

Certainly earlier this year I wrote about a speech in which Clegg made the most compelling argument thus far in favour of extreme deficit reduction, which essentially boiled down to longer term sustainability and strength in diversity for the economy. I still think he may be torn though and that he might accept some of Labour’s arguments that claim a slower pace of cuts would have restored greater growth sooner.

With regards to the referendum on AV Clegg clearly made an error when choosing the date. The key reason for Yes2AV’s failure was that their argument became inseparably embroiled with party politics and the local elections. Clegg’s personal unpopularity rubbed off on the campaign for reform, mainly because of dirty tactics from the No camp. Yes2AV also made ridiculous unrealistic claims about accountability, rather than keeping their argument simple. Celebrities made a late push for reform at a rally but by then it was too late, the argument should have been made more forcefully outside of the political sphere weeks before May the 5th.

Of course the important and interesting question now is what do the Lib Dems do to recover? And how will this affect the coalition? Paddy Ashdown, the former leader of Britain’s third party, was on Question Time on Thursday. He spoke eloquently and with reason on foreign affairs, prompting cheers and claps from the bulk of the audience. But when it came to domestic politics he found himself bogged down by the harsh public opinion of Clegg, so very different from the polls after the TV debates over a year ago. He valiantly defended the courage of his party’s leader under fire but could only react with frustration when the audience flatly refused to hear him out.

Clegg continued to show that courage in an interview with Andrew Marr on Sunday. Given the pictures of his gloom and the mountain to climb left by the results, Clegg gave remarkably assured answers and honestly asserted that he’d misjudged things, and that the Lib Dems needed to have a “louder voice” in the coalition. He spoke of the need to sing about the unexpectedly high number of Lib Dem manifesto policies being implemented. But in many ways all this was predictable and necessary.

The efforts to give his party an individual and distinctive again will undoubtedly begin to heal the wounds of defeat. He needs to show greater reluctance when he must go along with Conservative plans, pick the Tory policies he does oppose carefully for maximum impact and point out measures that perfectly illustrate the moderating influence of his party. Clegg has already worked out that NHS reform is the best way to begin a recovery, threatening to block it and demanding changes are made to meet concerns. However what would really give the Lib Dems a distinctive voice back is to propose and explain policies they would be implementing without the Conservatives.

What I mean by this is to set out policies, on tuition fees for example, that the Lib Dems would implement if they had the ideal (but unlikely) scenario of a majority government. These policies should be calculated to appeal to Labour voters and those within Labour potentially open to coalition. The Lib Dems need to reach out to Ed Miliband or those around him with influence, to stop him pounding the human shields of the coalition as opposed to those in the driving seat.  A senior figure in the party, perhaps likeable President Tim Farron, should be chosen to run what would almost be an alternative Lib Dem opposition.

I accept this would be difficult to handle and could shatter trust and cooperation with the Tories. Many might say it’s impossible. But as long as Clegg and key Lib Dem ministers weren’t directly involved, the group did not challenge specific government policy and simply proposed Lib Dem alternatives not covered by the coalition agreement, there would be little the Tories could do to stop it. AV may be lost but the Lib Dems have plenty of arguments they can still make that are unique to them. They must take the philosophy behind AV, choice and fairness, and tie it to attractive policy. For example their manifesto went further on tax, transport, energy and the House of Lords. Choice is the key to freedom in a modern society and the Lib Dems must make the case for the state actively empowering individuals. The Liberals must show how they would liberate.

It’s probably better for Clegg to keep his head down for a while and continue to soak up pressure whilst his party recovers independently. Clegg’s popularity will take longer than his party’s to heal. But this does not mean he is the wrong man to lead it. He has for the most part taken bold decisions both in the national interest and to achieve greater fairness sought by his party’s voters. He has had to concede costly economic compromises, but to overcome these he must be bold again. Frankly after the tactics of the No Campaign, so wholeheartedly backed by Cameron, Clegg must dirty his hands a little. A louder voice will only convince dispirited voters if it hints at what the coalition is doing wrong because of the Conservatives, as well as what it’s doing right because of the Lib Dems.

New Politics?


The aftermath of the General Election on May the 6th has undoubtedly been historic and produced an unexpected, new kind of government. There have been grand claims that politics has somehow fundamentally altered, as if parliament had literally been strung up by the electorate, leaving corpses of the old way strewn about Westminster. Whilst scepticism as to these claims of a newly purified political class is wise, it is also foolish to deny the scale of the change that has taken place.

For in many ways Nick Clegg is not wrong to claim that a new era of political history has been ushered in, replacing the way things were forever more. For the first time since the Second World War the country is guided by a coalition government and crucially the two party seesaw between Labour and the Conservatives has been interrupted. This is truly an exciting time in British politics and a time of change and the coalition has sought to highlight just how daringly different it will be to the “old” system, in order to paper over cracks in its hurriedly assembled agreement. It might be true that the deal between the Conservatives and Lib Dems has changed politics forever but it does not ensure sudden transparency, honesty and fairness. David Cameron wishes the public to acknowledge how enormously grown up he has been to get into bed with Nick Clegg for the “national interest” and to paint a picture of a more civilized, cooperative government. He hopes to ride a wave of popularity, based on doing the right thing and getting things done through compromise, all the way to the next election.

Whilst Nick Clegg’s surge in the polls during the election campaign, following his effective use of the TV debates, did not translate into an increased number of Lib Dem seats it did show his potential for popularity. In many ways the popular backing Cameron will gain from embracing Clegg is more valuable than the stable Commons majority afforded to him by the Lib Dem MPs. The new Prime Minister has instructed his Deputy to direct a programme of political reform including a PR elected House of Lords, a referendum on Alternative Vote and a “Great Repeal” Act. Clegg understandably sought to emphasise the liberal opportunities open to him and the extent to which the state would be rolled back in favour of the individual. Whilst Cameron is likely to incur the wrath of his backbenchers he is also likely to acquire new support from the public from those keen to see reform. And the anxious Tories needn’t worry, as Clegg’s grand programme is only likely to yield moderate reform that the two coalition parties agree on such as the right to sack MPs, whilst giving the impression of something far more inspiring to the nation.

Cameron then appears to be manipulating Clegg’s role for his own long term benefit. Combine this with the lack of women in the new cabinet, the high proportion of privately educated ministers and the misuse of the coalition’s honeymoon goodwill to conceal realities of deficit reduction with talk of quangos and waste once again, and very little about politics seems to have changed. However as I have said the breakthrough of a third party into the status quo cannot be underestimated. Fresh ideas and policies can liven up the new government’s agenda, with the Lib Dems winning some surprising concessions in the negotiations. Part of the radical redistribution of the tax system advocated by the Lib Dems will go ahead, for example. Crucially for those on the left of the party, the Liberals also have the opportunity to restrain the worst of Tory policy, with inheritance tax the headline casualty from the Conservative manifesto. As I have argued previously the Lib Dems were absolutely right to enter into a coalition, and those opposing it from within cannot be genuinely serious about making a difference through the best of their own policy and halting the worst of their new partners. However as the Labour leadership race accelerates it is understandable that many Lib Dems might fear for the future prospects of their party following the coalition deal.

Following the deal Labour was boosted by an influx of disaffected Lib Dem voters, who felt betrayed. This is perhaps not surprising given that many may have voted Lib Dem primarily to avoid a Tory government. Labour also did better than it might have done in the election, retaining a strong base upon which to build as the only party in opposition, with plenty of targets to aim at. It will be tempting for the victorious candidate in the Labour leadership election to score easy points by demolishing the morally compromised Lib Dems and continuing to snatch their supporters. However I hope that the winning candidate has the foresight and sense of fairness to realise that avoiding a return to the old tussle between red and blue will benefit democracy and leave the Tories weakened. It will be a difficult balance to strike, but the new Labour leader should not alienate the Lib Dems and dismiss its contribution to taming the Tory beast. They should rebuild the party to appeal to a wide range of voters, embracing the progressive agenda of the Lib Dems to isolate the Tories. Hurriedly looting Lib Dem support would only strengthen the Conservatives in the long run and rob the country of genuinely needed new direction and debate. The coalition will limp to the next election on the brink of disintegration from internal disagreement, battered from without by the pain of deficit reduction and media scrutiny of scandals like that of David Laws. Labour and the Liberal Democrats must be careful that whenever this government does end, the Conservatives and David Cameron do not escape blame.

Tell it like it is – The Party who trusts and respects voters will make the biggest gains at this election


The assertion that politicians twist the truth and occasionally just tell bare faced lies will not come as a surprise to most. Following the expenses scandal the entire country was united, irrespective of class and generation, in disgust at our MPs and their detached dreamland played out in a bubble of privilege a million miles from the concerns of their constituents. However what is deeply worrying is the way in which the parties are responding in the build up to a General Election that faces a range of crises that seem certain to lead to voter dissatisfaction and another decrease in turn-out. A combination of economic gloom, inaction on immigration and the tarnished reputation of Westminster is threatening to make a mockery of democracy at a time when any new government needs a strong mandate from the people to make right decisions not popular ones. Sadly though trends in the campaigning we’ve seen so far suggest a preoccupation with popularity rather than the honesty needed for the nation to reconnect with politics.

One issue in particular highlights all the factors that appear to deter campaigners from truthful messages, as opposed to easily digestible slogans. This election will be fought largely over the economy and who is best qualified to oversee its recovery and inevitable change of course in the next few years. The Conservatives made much of the need to slash the deficit and preserve Britain’s integrity in the eyes of the financial world but have since backtracked so that in reality dividing lines between the government and opposition are about whens, not whats. The two parties essentially agree but Labour would simply delay cuts for an extra year.

 In their election campaigning thus far the Tories have struggled to strike a balance between attacking Gordon Brown’s track record of handling Britain’s budget with their own inexperience in the area. Rather than focus on the Prime Minister’s mismanagement of the economy whilst Chancellor during the boom years as they have previously done, the Tories have honed in on Brown’s actions as Prime Minster during the economic collapse. The VAT cut has come under intense Tory scrutiny and has been portrayed as a prime example of the government’s needless spending and failed fiscal stimuli. However in reality the cost of the VAT cut is insignificant as a contribution to the record breaking national deficit. Its effectiveness can certainly be questioned but the real damage was done by years of growth in public spending during the boom years under Blair.

The reason the Conservatives choose to withhold this truth from the public in their campaigning is that whilst it may show Gordon Brown’s incompetence it is harder to attack the Prime Minister on his history of ploughing money back into society. Such an image of the Prime Minster as a good natured man now attempting to rectify his mistakes in the fairest way possible does not fit well with the Tory representation of a bully incapable of accepting advice and determined to forge a political legacy for himself by conning the country and dragging it to the brink of economic oblivion. David Cameron also no doubt likes to remind himself that Brown made mistakes as Prime Minster, despite “saving the world” from economic collapse by leading the way with government guarantees for the banks. Labour too are equally guilty of twisted messages when it comes to the battleground of the economy however. They could rightly emphasise the role played by the Prime Minister in stabilising global finance, but such an important success is now viewed as a turn-off for voters because bankers are universally hated figures and the Tories will pounce on any mention of the slump to point out it was a Labour government’s doing in the first place. Instead then Labour’s efforts have focused on making the Tories the evil figures of austerity, when in actual fact either party would be forced to cut ruthlessly in the next government.

The way the economic debate is unfolding teaches us a number of essential truths about the absence of truth in politics. Firstly the two main parties have broadly similar policies in many areas and the actual dividing lines are ideological ones ingrained in the minds of voters. Secondly politicians assume the public has a limited attention span and forgetful memory; it will therefore be unwilling to embrace plans for long term change and unlikely to recall the truly vital errors of the distant past. Thirdly the main parties will never acknowledge that the other took the right course of action. And finally the reason they will not recognise the strengths of their opponents, even when justified, is because they are reluctant to concede any ground as both have something to lose.

Change that works for you, building a fairer Britain”. This is the campaign slogan unveiled by the Lib Dems today, as they seek to combine elements of the Tory emphasis on change and Labour’s on fairness to be the party of compromise. However if the Lib Dems really want to break the mould and appeal to Labour and Tory voters they must embrace honesty. If Nick Clegg can answer questions honestly and with genuine passion at the TV debates scheduled during the election campaign he could propel his party up in the polls towards a position of greater influence that may enable real change. British people are in dire need of reassurance that democracy is not failing their country and it will take more than empty slogans with honest gestures to convince the electorate this time; it will take trust and respect.

Need for Lib Dem Realism


The Shadow Chancellor, writing in The Times today, insists that the Tories represent real change and are not simply “chasing the polls”. Such a claim seems unwise, given that the article announces a change in the direction of the Opposition’s strategy made as a result of recent Labour gains. The Conservatives, Osborne says, will no longer shirk from attacking Gordon Brown’s record in favour of announcing policy as they have done so far this year. In the same breath he insists this election is not about doing away with a tired government but “real change”. This “real change” will focus on six main areas; cutting the deficit, the NHS, family, school reform, cleaning up Westminster and boosting enterprise.

These are the battle grounds the Tories have chosen to fight the election on. In my opinion, despite the non-stop policy announcements, David Cameron and his team have not got across to voters exactly how they will bring change in these areas. In particular the Tories talked tough on the deficit, announced some initial policies and then backtracked when the polls twitched, mimicking Labour rhetoric about protecting the recovery and avoiding “swingeing cuts”. Today an Emergency Budget was promised, but the real plan for slicing Britain’s debt is unlikely to emerge until after the election, if indeed there is one. More worrying however is that if these are a Conservative government’s priorities then what place do issues like Afghanistan, energy security and climate change have on the agenda? There is also a definite lack of excitement, radicalism or idealism about such targets. David Cameron has previously talked passionately on changing government to empower people and cutting back the state but there is no great focus on this in Tory campaigning. To use a sporting analogy, the Conservatives are sitting back and playing it safe, hoping to make it to full time still in the lead.

Such a cautious approach gives other parties hope. Labour are fighting back and the election looks set to be closer than it might’ve been. However the Shadow Chancellor is right about one thing in his article today and that is that voters are fed up with Gordon Brown. Realistically it is straight choice from the dire Scot dirtied by power and the fresh Etonian. The Liberal Democrats refuse to take sides between the two big boys and Nick Clegg has ruled out participating in a coalition should there be a hung parliament. This is a mistake. The leader of Britain’s third party should not dismiss such an immense opportunity to break the political status quo and implement changes that couldn’t be considered under normal circumstances. In other words the Lib Dems should not rule themselves out of a position in which they could pick and choose the policy priorities of government and introduce fairer representation that might seal the party’s return to the mainstream.

TV debates loom for party leaders for the first time in a British General Election campaign. Nick Clegg should feel blessed to have a podium at these events. I believe it is right that he does, but unless he has a message worthy of the opportunity including the Lib Dems will simply be a token gesture. He has to strive to strike a balance between idealism and realism. He should acknowledge his party’s place rather than pretending to be something he isn’t, but recognise the opportunities afforded him by such an underdog status. It allows him to be franker with the public about policy, something the Lib Dems do quite well via Vince Cable. However it also allows his party’s vision to be more ambitious and less diluted by the demands placed upon the parties who have something to lose.

This election is the first for a while in which doom and gloom reign over optimism. Neither the Conservatives nor Labour feel able to promise it and both have awkwardly tried to find a balance, resulting in a message that is neither uplifting or honest. The Lib Dems can be the party who present the current crises as opportunities for rebuilding Britain on stronger foundations. They already have radical tax policies that would really do something about fairness but they need to go further. To do this they must recognise the splits in their own party, caused by two types of Liberal; the state interventionist who resembles old Labour and the hands off, small state intellectual closer to the Tories. Rather than a weakness a fusion of policies that appeal to both types of Liberal would be an enormous strength, providing appeal across the electorate and in areas neglected by the main parties. To an extent this might mean controversial compromise, for example on energy policy. Currently the Lib Dems wish to avoid the “rush” to nuclear to tackle climate change. However a stable supply is needed alongside renewables and for the party to recognise this would be a massive signal to the nation that the Liberals intend to achieve their idealistic goals.

If Nick Clegg wants to be he can be the first Liberal leader in a long time to exercise genuine power. He is foolish to rule out a coalition. In the past the country has had a coalition at times of financial hardship, war and political scandal. Today all these things are challenges as well as climate change, an issue that needs unprecedented action to bypass a population that will never be unanimous. Even William Hague, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, said on the Andrew Marr show recently that climate change should be acted upon if there is even the slightest chance the evidence is correct. This is the correct approach but sadly a Conservative government, or a Labour one, would not feel able to take the radical steps necessary to make a significant reduction in emissions. A coalition however would be able to introduce policies for the long term good of the country. The Lib Dems can unleash a political shockwave over the next few months that will decide the election and the nation’s future. If they do not play their hand the game will continue to be played without them.