Today, at 1 PM, in the Crown Plaza room Argyll 1, Iain Dale, Peter Kellner and Tim Farron will be giving their predictions for how the Lib Dems will do in the 2015 general election. I’m plugging this, not just because I’ve organised it, but because it sheds light on the fact that the party could very well find itself holding the balance of power again once the votes are tallied. Which means what the Lib Dems offer up front, and what they are willing to cede for other things in coalition negotiations becomes key.
Thus far, the Lib Dems have not pledged to hold an In/Out referendum on Europe come what may. This has been good on many levels, but particularly in terms of basic politics. How many more people will vote Lib Dem if the party made this pledge? I can’t think of many. Then consider the fact that the main reason the Tories would be desperate to do a deal if they are the largest party in a hung parliament is because coalition, or at least a deal with another party and the Lib Dem could well be the only option, would be the one way that the referendum could take place. In a minority situation, there’s no way it happens without an explicit deal. And with Fixed Term Parliaments, the power to call another election would be out of their hands. They would be forced to drift as a minority government until Labour thought it advantageous to put them out of their misery.
Thus, the Lib Dems offering to hold an In/Out referendum now would simply be giving away the party’s best bargaining chip for absolutely nothing. The Lib Dems might be in a position to get all sorts of things out of the Tories in return for the EU referendum, whether in a formal coalition or just supply and confidence. We should be thinking now about what those things might be. And they should be ambitious.
For those who think Lib-Lab is on the cards, consider this: would the Lib Dems really force Labour to hold an EU referendum as a coalition deal breaker? Just reading that I hope has made you realise how ridiculous such a thing would be. Therefore, by extension, making a pledge to do so is equally silly.
I close with the question posed by the opening plug: how will the Lib Dems do in 2015? I have written myself on this topic in the past, and been told even by Lib Dems that I’m very optimistic as these things go. I’ve wavered at times since then, but looking at Iain’s new prediction, I think the party will be okay. If 28 is a worst case scenario, fine. The Lib Dems just need to hang on and not get decimated in 2015. Politics at the moment is so fluid, with both of the two major parties with major problems, anything could happen.