Some readers will tie themselves up in knots over the title of this article. “Aren’t the Tories and the government basically the same thing, and you’re just making a semantic argument?” No they aren’t, and no I’m not.
The Tories are the Conservative Party, formed in 1678, 1834, or 1912, depending on how you read things. They are the bastions of the Right, standing up for the status quo. At least until Thatcher came along and confused the hell out of things. They were for a long time the defenders of the Empire, a position that still confuses Conservative thinking to this day and results in things like their split on Europe.
The government on the other hand is a combination of the top people from both the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats making the laws of our land. And therein lies the crux of what I’m trying to say: the Liberal Democrats need to distance themselves from the Conservative Party in terms of how each party would govern alone. But as for this government, the coalition that is now crawling to a finish, that the party must be clear in defending.
How different the Tories and Lib Dems are as parties can be no better illustrated than the current political terrain. Were the two all that alike, we’d be talking now about official merger and the like, how seamless it all was being in government together. Instead, the two parties have basically run out of things to say to each other and spend a lot of time slagging each other off. As it turns out, there are some very fundamental differences between conservatives and liberals that could not be fully bridged. No surprise really, as they are almost opposite traditions, politically speaking.
All of this is very, very important to bear in mind when thinking about Lib Dem campaigning and messaging during the election ahead. The party should be proud of everything it has achieved in government, but clear about how what it wants to do going forward is very different to what the Tories want to do with the country. The Conservatives will be doing mostly the same thing, so that only makes life easier.
For the Lib Dems to trash the coalition government they have been part of for five years would be political suicide. The party’s political enemies understand this all too well and are at pains to try and trap the Liberal Democrats into taking this approach. It should not and cannot fall for it. No, the government and its record must be upheld. I would even go as far as to say that defending the government and its record and differentiating the party from the Tories are actually one and the same: the message is that the Tories governing on their own would have been far less effective. Therefore, the Lib Dems remain essential, particularly as Labour look like and less likely to be in the running.