By challenging the Conservatives to become more socially liberal, David Cameron has made his party less objectionable to Liberal Democrats. By challenging the Liberal Democrats to become more economically liberal, Nick Clegg has made his party less objectionable to Conservatives. And by developing a similar liberal critique of the current government – as too centralised, too big and too interfering – Cameron and Clegg have committed their parties to the same over-arching political challenge: to break decisively from New Labour’s top down, centrally planned approach to governance and put real power back in the hands of the British people.
And it concludes...
The election of a self styled ‘liberal Conservative’ as Tory leader should have increased the likelihood of meaningful co-operation between the two parties. So far, such co-operation has been conspicuous only by its absence. There are several reasons for this.
First, the parties have spent most of the last century and a half eyeing each other suspiciously over the progressive-conservative divide. This mutual suspicion runs deep and will not be quickly or easily overcome. Policy positions may be ever changing, but the culture of a party, and the core instincts of its members, are not.
Second, there are good reasons to believe that the Conservative party is not engaged in as fundamental a re-invention as David Cameron would like the electorate to believe. At its 2007 conference, the party committed to reducing significantly the number of foreigners entering the UK, increasing the number of people in prison, and introducing a £3 billion tax cut for the wealthiest families in the country. Meanwhile, its hostility towards the European Union remains undiminished. Such an agenda can be justified, but not by reference to liberalism.
Third, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives remain in direct opposition in much of the country, particularly in suburban and rural England where Labour has little or no real presence. As long as the success of each party depends on the failure of the other, co-operation will prove difficult, if not impossible.
However, none of these factors obscures the central point: that the Liberal Democrats are today closer to the Conservative Party than they have been for many years. By attacking the government from the left, Charles Kennedy, an instinctive social democrat, managed to distance his party from Labour without ever bringing it closer to the Conservatives (a policy continued by Menzies Campbell). The same cannot be said of Nick Clegg, an instinctive liberal with no interest in leading Britain’s most left wing party. Under his leadership, the Liberal Democrats have resumed a position of ‘equidistance’ between the other two parties – a position they will attempt to hold until the next general election. If that election proves inconclusive, no one can predict with certainty which way Clegg and his colleagues might jump – something that could not have been said of the Liberal Democrats under Paddy Ashdown, Charles Kennedy or Sir Menzies Campbell.
CentreForum is very influential in LibDem circles. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that the party leadership "encouraged" them to write this paper as a kite flying exercise to gauge the party reaction. No mention of it on any of the LibDem blogs I regularly look at. Perhaps I can spur them into reaction! Anyway, read the whole document HERE and tell me what you make of it.