Just prior to noticing a bottle of 25-year-old Laphroaig has appeared recently behind the bar and thus ending up unable to hold conversation, Acid Rabbi conducted a short informal survey among friends and acquaintances in the pub last night so as to be able to get some idea of popular public opinion re. the probable Conservative/Liberal Democrat pact.
The general consensus appears to be as follows:
Tory voters: "Who cares?"
Labour voters: "No! We need them! And they have more in common with us!"
LibDem voters: "If Clegg goes for it, I'm never voting LibDem again."
Let's have a look at those in reverse order. LibDem voters, it seems, feel cheated by the prospect of a pact between the two parties - this is, in large part, because with the LibDems edging slightly leftward and Labour wholeheartedly stomping rightward ever since 1997 and the rise of Blair, the LibDems are frequently left of Labour these days. This has caused many traditional Labour voters, finding themselves without a Socialist option to vote for in national elections, to up sticks and support the LibDems instead; these being the sorts of people who maintain a deep-seated loathing for the Tory party and all Tory policy. Other - traditional - LibDem voters will feel, if such a pact is made, that they have been duped and that their LibDem vote was a scam, allowing the Tories into power. So, all in all, Nick Clegg risks alienating a large percentage of LibDem support.
The LibDems quite probably do have more in common with at least some sections of the Labour party, which still has a few traditionally-minded MPs - the hoary old socialist warhorses are long gone now, but there remains a phalanx of leftists who spend most of their time being quiet nowadays but, once in a while, wake up; as is the case with the Socialist Campaign Group, to whom the Dark Lord Mandelson was almost certainly referring when he warned Gordon Brown of a shadowy group of MPs who sought nothing less than his downfall back in June last year. Groups like that might very well make good allies for the LibDems - not least of all because the SCG advocates the scrapping of both Trident and ID cards, both LibDem policies.
Tory voters are so convinced that, due to the Conservatives being the largest party in the Commons, they have won the election that they don't seem to see any need to form a coalition with anyone, thank you very much. They may well be right: the party came so much closer to an overall majority than either Labour or the LibDems that if another General Election is called soon, as is very likely to be the case due to the hung parliament, they won't have anything like as much work to do to achieve the extra seats they need. This, however, does not necessarily make them a backdoor to power for the LibDems, because it seems highly unlikely that David Cameron will allow many of Clegg's requests - the Conservatives are far less favourable when it comes to the EU than the LibDebs, are absolutely opposed to scrapping Trident and, Cameron has made clear since the election, not willing to even discuss electoral reform in any seriousness. All of which are matters very close to Liberal Democrat hearts.
As we all know, we're going to see deep and savage cuts in all sorts of services and raised taxation may well become necessary as, at the time of writing, each and every British taxpayer needs to pay over £32,000 if the nation is to pay off its debts (there's a counter at the bottom of this page if you want to know the exact figure). Though all three main parties discussed this at great length during the run up to the election, the matter was heavily glossed-over during public debate, leaving us in the dark about just how savage these cuts will need to be - the only thing that seems certain is the next few years are going to be very hard indeed. Whichever party finds itself in power - either by forming a pact with the LibDems or, as Labour would need to do, with the LibDems and some other groups - might just find it has shot itself in the foot here, because when the public feel those cuts and realise how deep they are, they're not going to be happy. Had we have been properly warned, we might have had time to accept - but we haven't been properly warned, so many people will react with anger which, in five years' time when another General Election comes round, will probably manifest itself as a massive swing away from whichever party finds itself on top once we're out of the current hung parliament mess.
Whichever party that is, it's likely to find itself all but annihilated for at least ten years, possibly a generation. The larger parties would, in time, recover - it'd hurt the Tories but they'd survive, just as they survived Blair. Labour would be hit hard, but they too would survive - they managed to live on after the disastrous 1983 election when under Michael Foot's leadership they were hammered by the Conservatives, led by Margaret Thatcher who was riding high following the UK's triumph in the Falklands. The Liberal Democrats, however, despite having seemed strong enough to move into second place in the Commons just two and half weeks ago, are a considerably smaller and weaker party, as has been shown by Thursday's results. A body blow of the type they'd experience if they're part of the next government might easily finish them off for good - it could well be a killer punch, rather than the mere knockout it would be for the bigger parties.
With that in mind, the best thing for Nick Clegg to do could be to take a step back and forget power for the time being, ride out the storm and wait, keeping his party intact and independent. A week is a long time in politics yet, strangely, five years is not. If the Tories rise to the top, the electorate - when they're fed up, aching and furious that they weren't warned about the extent of the trouble ahead - will be wanting to make their anger felt. Many, looking at Labour, will still remember how determined they were to punish them in 2010 and so instead they'll want an alternative - and the LibDems, promising once again a different, fresh approach - will be there, with Nick Clegg working the magic we saw in the Leader's Debates and Vince Cable seeming as ever a much more human prospect than George Osborne, looking for all the world like an attractively-wrapped birthday gift.
Your time will come, Mr. Clegg. Just have patience.