Being a Lib Dem with government ministers (and everything) after all those years (nay, generations) in opposition, must be something akin to the feelings you have the very first time you ‘make love’. It’s something you’ve dreamed of for years, and you are undoubtedly happy it has finally happened.
But… it wasn’t quite what you expected. Theresa May is certainly no liberal’s dream of a Home Secretary. But… at the heel of the hunt they may simply be relieved that they got the job of keeping the Tories decent and David Cameron to his new liberal Tories. It is notable that there are no Lib Dems in the ‘big three jobs…
But… some power is better than nothing at all, particularly if you want to graduate from party of protest to a party of grown ups. I suspect most Lib Dems would rest a little easier if they’d driven their tanks through either of the two front lines, rather than being stranded in the lee of their own Maginot line.
But… as Mark argues on his blog this is a time for the party to demonstrate the strengths of coalition government. There is no way the population of the UK will buy electoral reform if its first peacetime coalition since the days of Churchill and the Liberal Unionists, can work in the positive way the theorists that the Economists think it can.
But… I suspect Cameron’s promise to put any such reforms to a referendum will be enough to kill it off. Unlike Ireland, the UK has no written constitution requiring the approval of the beyond the assent of its elected (and unelected) members of parliament.
But… the big dirty secret is that the Lib Dems is a better fit with the direction that Cameron has been cajoling his party in ever since he took over in 2006. This gives the Lib Dem’s Orange Bookers a chance to provide post ideological agency for a party that’s been notable for its inability to generate its own big ideas.
But… whenever it is this government goes to the country, the Lib Dems will have to have found an answer to the voluble anger on Facebook and other places from Labour leaning voters who’ve been lending them a vote, not just this time out, but for most of the last twenty years, in order to unseat/keep out the Tories.
But… the Lib Dems will undoubtedly be used as a ‘mudguard’ against the Tory right, who must even now be reconciling themselves to the fact that whilst a Tory led government is better than one led by Labour, one containing a sizeable chunk of Lib Dems will shift the internal balance of power substantially away from them.
Finally, and more hopefully from a Lib Dem perspective, there will be rewards for all if they can simply stay away from anything too controversial, or dare I say it, political. A good term in office, particularly if Labour complements it with a lunge to the left, may open up new vistas for the Lib Dems.
And the old accusation that they have no conception of government may be consigned to the past. And they bring the Conservatives a democratic legitimacy north of the border that the Tories can only dream about.
Their abiding problem is that long-term survival is not in the interests of either of the two big parties. And – unlike their two big rivals – they have no loyal regional base within which to bury/draw up large political reserves. They are pastoral grazers, not political ‘big farmers’.
They will need to keep plenty in reserve to win a national referendum, which, if Ireland’s experience is anything to go by, are notoriously given to saying no to any form of change.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty