IT is time for the Liberal Democrats to reconsider their role in the UK Coalition.
In the two years since the Rose Garden love-in between Nick Clegg and David Cameron, the LibDems have taken all the pain and none of the gain. Remaining in an unequal partnership with the Tories is doing them, or the country, little good.
It is worth recalling the record of the Scottish LibDems in coalition with Labour in the Holyrood partnerships between 1999-2007. They were responsible for delivering major policies such as free personal care, electoral reform for Scottish local government and abolition of up-front university tuition fees. Compare that with the past two years of Lib-Tory coalition in Westminster.
Last week, LibDem hopes of winning reform of our unelected House of Lords came to nought as another Tory backbench rebellion stalled the reform bill. It looks as if Britain will remain the only mature democracy in which the hereditary principle applies in parliament. The LibDems were outmanoeuvred over Lords reform by their Conservative partners just as they were over the AV referendum a year ago.
Clegg's party have given much. They had to renege on their promise to oppose the increase in university tuition fees, breaking a pledge signed by every General Election candidate from the leader down. The progress made towards the goal of exempting from income tax all those earning less than £10,000 a year is small beer compared to the deep cuts in social spending that they have had to endorse.
Tory MPs talk of Clegg as if he were rather dim, given to outbursts of petulance and in need of firm guidance. But David Cameron could not have survived in office without him. Clegg has performed an immense service to the Chancellor, George Osborne, by providing cover for the deficit reduction programme and swingeing austerity. Yet, as the great economist John Maynard Keynes, himself a Liberal, would have told them, the cuts have only made the recession worse by dampening demand in the economy.
Enough is enough. For the sake of the country, the LibDems should now end this coalition of the unwilling. We understand the difficulty ministers have in giving up their ministerial boxes, their cars, their prestige. The LibDems were right to attempt this partnership, and to humanise the Tory response to the economic crisis. But it simply has not worked. The country needs a new economic approach to haul Britain out of the double-dip recession, but it seems inconceivable that this unequal Coalition can generate one.
Yes, if they pull Cameron down, the Liberal Democrats may suffer at the ballot box. But in case they haven't noticed they are already facing political extinction. Their only hope now is to do the decent thing and go.
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