I'm just about to drive down to Brighton to spend the day with the LibDems. I just listened to Ming Campbell's Today programme interview in which he successfully managed to avoid any question on policy at all. He was asked if he would campaign against all hospital closures yesterday and he gave a straight answer - yes. On the Today programme he was asked how this squared with his mantra of taking the "tough" choices which face the country. He answered that the Health Service was very important. Well, whoopee. He was then asked where the £15 billion of public spending cuts would come from. He said that the three great services of health, education and transport were very important. Vacuous in the extreme.
It's all very well sounding like the voice of sweet reason, but in the end, if you're going to be taken seriously, you have to give us some meat. Ming Campbell is the first to criticise David Cameron for talking about generalities, but there is a crucial difference. The LibDems have decided to come up with specific tax and spending proposals very early in the Parliament, which therefore come under scrutiny. Cameron's policy groups don't report for 6-12 months yet and when they do you can be sure that political opponents and the media will scrutinise them like never before.
The other line which is not sustainable for Ming is his oft-trotted out mantra about getting maximum seats and maximum votes. It's a good soundbite, but it's a motherhood and apple pie phrase. Peopel deserve to know who the LibDems lean towards in any possible coalition if there is a hung parliament at the next election. In their gut, they must individually know. I cannot believe that it would be in the longterm interests of the LibDems to prop up a wholly discredited Labour government, but on the other hand there are many in the LibDems who would rather stick needles in their eyes than consider a coalition with the Conservatives. Speaking from the Conservative viewpoint, the reverse is also true for many of us. However, politics IS about tough choices, and it could well be that this is a real choice which faces the LibDems in 2009. So who's it to be? This is a question I shall be asking LibDems throughout the day on camera, in a wholly unscientific poll. I wonder how many of them will have the courage their leader seems to lack.