What an interesting 24 hours in national politics! I had the good fortune to be sat next to (Baroness) Ros Scott, President of the Liberal Democrats at our local fundraising back last night. We agreed that Ed was best for us as he inevitably will be constrained from moving to the centre, leaving more space for the Lib Dems. While I have a residual worry that Ed might lose so badly as to let the Tories back on their own, I am inclined to agree.
Ros was great company. While operating at the top of the tree, so to speak, she did her time as a councillor and activist. Indeed her credibility with members helped to sell the Coalition agreement to a dazed and confused membership whose support was critical in those vital four days following the General Election.
But where will our votes come from in 2015, I asked her? I am probably not the only Lib Dem who fear being taken on the left by Labour and on the right by a liberal Tory Party in a two-horse race. Ros was more sanguine. Yes, she says, we will lose voters and seats, particularly in northern cities. But we will gain votes too, she argues, in middle-England from Soft-Cons who now see as as a more serious party. In other words, we abandon the left and share the centre and centre-right with the Tories.
Is she right? Well, in numbers terms the centre and centre-right is the biggest space in UK politics. If Ed doesn't capture it, we should pick up votes there. But I am still struggling in my mind to work out who our own voter-coalition is made up of. In the past, it was ex-Labour people, the more affluent, liberal middle classes who didn't feel like Conservatives and the Celtic Fringe plus University towns and a few selected urban populations: Burnley, for example. This means Lib Dem seats in South-West London, Northern Scotland, Cornwall, the odd northern city.
I guess the future is about whether we can take some seats from the Tories in Southern England, given that it is highly unlikely we will hold on in the North. Predicting Election 2015 is almost impossible at this stage. But the following are I think givens: Labour will improve on its 257 seats and score at least 275 and possibly up to 300. For the other parties, it is much harder to predict due to the success or otherwise of the economy.
Whatever happens, the Lib Dems will fight as an independent party and will again seek to sell a distinctive set of policies which it will seek to embed into any future Coalition. The pitch will as a moderating force on the two extremes, using the 2010-15 Coaliton as proof of our ability and achievement as a party. Although it isn't often noticed, a big part of our argument is that multi-party politics are better than the tribal politics which have held this country back since 1945: North vs South. Rich vs poor. Capital versus labour. Big state versus small state, high tax versus low tax.
The reason I joined the Lib Dems was that the party seeks to go beyond these lose-lose conversations. Not a big or small state - but a reformed state. Not high or low tax but fair and effective taxes. Not unions or management but an economy in which we all hold a stake. Only once we move beyond class-war does this country stand a chance of moving forward.