15 Sep 2013

Lib Dems in Glasgow: red lines and blue lines

Senior Lib Dems are doing their best to bat away questions about whether they’d prefer to do business with Labour or the Tories after the next election.

Nick Clegg gave his standard reply to Andrew Marr about it all being a matter for the British electorate.

But if there was to be a photo finish there’s no question his members would choose Labour for coalition.

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And even if it wasn’t a photo finish, they’d prefer Labour as a coalition partner.

A poll in the Sunday Times by YouGov suggests Lib Dem supporters are more inclined to stick with the Tories in a straight choice.

But there are a number of variables that will be in play in 2015 if no-one won outright power.

Tories are muttering they wouldn’t let David Cameron go into coalition even if he wanted to.

And while Mr Clegg, this morning on Andrew Marr’s programme, is talking about how there will be Lib Dem “red lines” or “die in the trench” non-negotiables, some “blue line” Tory non-negotiables are taking shape on the other side of the coalition.

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For a while after Mr Cameron’s January speech on a renegotiation of Britain’s membership with the EU, it looked like that policy, billed as radical and drastic, could be the biggest obstacle to coalition with the Lib Dems in 2015.

But the plan has been getting diluted behind the scenes.

A Tory cabinet minister tells me it is now not so much about major repatriations beyond working hours but about an all-out assault on the European Court of Human Rights.

That isn’t of course, part of the EU but it is a toxic headline-maker and the Tories will demand either fundamental reform or withdrawal.

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That has until now been a red line for the Lib Dems.

Other “blue lines” senior Tories talk about could be equally problematic for the Lib Dems.

“There’s no way we’d not demand boundary reform,” one Tory Cabinet minister told me.

“And we’d make sure the next phase of Scottish devolution (he was assuming a “no” vote in the referendum) will deal with the West Lothian question” (ie Scottish seats in Westminster would be cut back drastically).  These two blue lines might cross some Lib Dem MPs’ red lines.

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