At your door

It’s already started. Lib Dems who are now part of a coalition that sustains a minority Tory administration are claiming that Conservative policy proposals that are antithetical to a progressive political credo are nuffin’ to do wiv them, guv. They shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it, and we mustn’t let them.

The best way to illustrate this point is to take the example of the Tory manifesto pledge to introduce transferable tax allowances for married couples – and married couples alone – that survived the coalition negotiations at the beginning of this week. Days – no, hours earlier, when they were pretending to be a progressive party of the centre-left, there was a approximately zero support amongst Lib Dems for such an iniquitous tax break, which explains why the coalition negotiations ensured the joint-policy document includes a provision for Lib Dem MPs to abstain when this budget resolution comes before the House. (Note, the provision is to allow Lib Dems to abstain only, rather than oppose.) The idea, of course, is that Lib Dems will be able to claim their hands are clean whilst the Tories push through their sop to the extreme right-wing of a governing coalition that includes Bill Cash and David Davies as well as Vince Cable and Sarah Teather.

But Lib Dem hands won’t be clean. It is their presence in the coalition that ensures Cameron can govern as something other than a minority government with a shelf-life of fresh mussels. No coalition and there’s no exclusive tax break for married couples. Lib Dem abstentions, however, mean the 307 Tory votes (it’s 306 currently but will be 307 after Thirsk & Malton votes) are unstoppable and the legislation will pass.

Lib Dems will try this ‘pick&mix’ approach to government policy at every turn in the coming months, but they must accept that coalition liability is joint and several. ‘Not in my name’ does not apply. Even when they abstain, the Lib Dems are accountable for every bill this government passes and all the budgets it produces as, without their presence in the coalition, the Tories are impotent.

This is the deal Lib Dems made in the name of “safe and secure government” and we must never let them forget it.