Questions of the form ‘who would you make a deal with?’ have bedevilled nearly every general election campaign in the history of the Liberal Democrats. For Liberal Democrat supporters, it’s often frustrating that scarce media coverage and interview time has so regularly been taken up with this question.
So it is a smart, if hopeful, move for the Liberal Democrats to try to kill off the question early in the 2017 general election campaign via a Tim Farron interview in The Observer:
The Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has ruled out any form of coalition with the Tories or Labour after the general election as he sets out a bold ambition to attract enough Remain voters to form the main opposition party in parliament.
In a dramatic shift of strategy for a party that entered coalition with the Conservatives in 2010 in the “national interest”, Farron said in an interview with the Observer that there will be “no deal, no deal with anybody” under any circumstances.
He insisted that both the Tories and Labour were intent on driving through a hard Brexit, which would include taking the UK out of the single market, and that his party had a duty to offer a distinct alternative, including a policy that would keep open a possibility of the UK staying in the EU.
“There is no way we can countenance any kind of arrangement or coalition with the Conservative party and likewise with the Labour party led by Jeremy Corbyn,” Farron said. “He [Corbyn] accepted hard Brexit, he voted for it. He enabled it. It has put us in the situation we are now in.”
Note also the reference to the Liberal Democrats being the main opposition. With the huge Conservative lead in the polls, it’s a realistically frank ambition. It echoes the ‘effective opposition’ tag so often used in Charles Kennedy‘s time.
It also serves the party’s interest for the 2017 general election to be seen as one where one party is way ahead and almost certain to win. That’s because it is in such previous general elections that the party has done best (e.g. 1997, 2005). By contrast, when the election is seen as close between Labour and the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats get squeezed (e.g. 1992, 2015).
UPDATE: Here is what Tim Farron has emailed to party members this evening.
The Liberal Democrats will not enter into any coalition deal with either Theresa May’s Conservatives or Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party.
On Thursday 8th of June, every vote for the Liberal Democrats is a vote to change the direction of our country and stop a hard Brexit.
The reasons for this decision are simple.
Under no conditions can we sign up to Theresa May’s Hard Brexit agenda; a hard Brexit will be a disaster for Britain. It risks crashing our economy and leaving us isolated on the global stage.
And Jeremy Corbyn would be a disaster for the country – he has no plan for the country, our economy and offers no leadership – and as Labour leader, every time it has mattered he has given Theresa May a blank cheque on Brexit.
Over the next 46 days, we’re going to offer the British people a real alternative and a vision of a Britain that is open, tolerant and united.
Together, we are going to elect more Liberal Democrat MPs and change the direction of our country.