Liberal-Tory coalition at Westminster?

Maybe I wasn’t paying attention, but it seems like this story in the FT slipped through the net. I mean, it’s a big deal, no?

Lib Dems could back Conservatives
By George Parker and Alex Barker

Published: February 7 2008 22:23 | Last updated: February 7 2008 22:23

Nick Clegg says his Liberal Democrats could support a minority Conservative government after the next election, if David Cameron proposes genuinely “liberal” reforms in areas such as civil liberties, public service reform and the environment.

The Lib Dem leader on Friday sets out conditions under which his party would back the first Queen’s Speech of a minority government if the next election produced a hung parliament.

But Mr Clegg’s legislative shopping list is remarkably similar to the priorities identified by Mr Cameron’s team for his first Queen’s Speech. They include a focus on civil liberties, education reforms, the environment and more local decision-making.

Mr Clegg said: “I don’t care who produces a more liberal document for government. If it is more liberal then of course I would be interested to look at it.”

His colleagues say that while Sir Menzies Campbell, the former Lib Dem leader, claimed to be equidistant, he could never truly imagine working with the Tories.

The 41-year-old Lib Dem leader – dubbed “Cameron’s stunt double” by his former leadership rival Chris Huhne – said he expected any new government to take an “enlightened” foreign policy stance, including warmer relations with Europe.

Mr Cameron’s allies admit Europe is the biggest dividing line between the Tories and Lib Dems, but one said: “We aren’t going to be legislating on Europe.”

They hope that a moderate “Lib Dem-friendly” first Queen’s Speech could secure Mr Clegg’s support in parliament, while stopping short of a formal coalition.

However, Mr Clegg suspects the Tory leader’s offer of a “progressive alliance” is all talk and says Mr Cameron has yet to produce convincing policy proposals that would be acceptable to his party.

Many Lib Dems are hostile to the Tories and see Mr Cameron’s overtures as a trap. Mr Clegg insists he could equally well work with Labour if – like the Tories – they “became, to all intents and purposes, Liberal Democrats”.

Any working relationship between the Lib Dems and the Conservatives in a hung parliament would be likely to stop short of a full coalition, not least because Mr Cameron will not offer a change to the voting system.

“Constitutional change is not something people are interested in,” said one Cameron supporter.

The Lib Dems see reform as vital in amending an electoral system, which they view as stacked against them.

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