There’s a better, more meaningful future waiting for us. Not as the third party, but as one of three parties of government.said Nick Clegg in his leader's speech to the Liberal Democrat Conference in Brighton yesterday.
I am all in favour of the Lib Dems being a party of government, but I am not sure I follow the logic here.
Because we are the third party and likely to remain so (unless it is in the 2014 Euro elections, when we could finish fourth or even fifth). And that means being in government depends upon our holding the balance of power. And that depends upon the performance of the other two parties, which is not in our control.
We are not in government because we did wonderfully well at the last election under Nick's leadership. In fact our performance was disappointing. We suffered a net loss of seats and, in particular failed to gain the more affluent Labour seats (the Edinburghs and Islingtons) we had been targeted.
We are in government because the Conservatives and Labour did roughly as well as each other. And for the foreseeable future our remaining a party of government is dependent upon that happening at every election.
This may be an obvious point, but it escaped Dr David Owen when he was leading the SDP. He regularly declared that the Alliance's goal should be to hold the balance of power, as though that was within out control. As it turned out, the British public was not convinced by Neil Kinnock at the 1987 general election and the other two parties finished too far apart for our purposes.
I suspect that, to Nick, not being a third party means more than that. It means getting rid of our eccentricities and embracing the Blair/Cameron consensus.
This is not an enticing prospect, and I am worried that, in his speech, Nick was clearer about the voters (and activists) whose support he did not want to attract than those he did.