Exeunt, pursued by a bear*

If you’re a regular or even occasional viewer of Dragons’ Den on the BBC, you’ll have heard the phrase exit strategy. The idea being that if you want someone to invest in your business, there has to be a way for them to make a profit and get their money back out of the business. The obvious way to recoup capital is a sale of the business’ equity and the Dragons do that all the time. Four years or so into an investment, they’ll begin looking to sell their share of the business for a profit. I hear that Duncan Bannatyne is a master of this manoeuvre.

We also hear it more and more as a military term. How does a nation get it’s troops out of a given conflict? George W Bush didn’t have an exit strategy for Iraq. He barely had any strategy at all to be fair, but that’s beside the point. The Iraq war began on March 20 2003 and there was no real exit strategy until 2007, four years later. David Petraus is well-known for being the military version of Duncan Bannatyne.

I often dream of making millions as an entrepreneur and I often read about military history. But what I’m thinking about right now is another kind of exit strategy all together. A political exit strategy.

If the current bill to create fixed-term Parliaments passes through the legislative process smoothly, then this Parliament will last five years.

What I’m wondering is this: If they are going to fight the general election in May 2015, what is the Liberal Democrats’ exit strategy from the Coalition?

The Lib Dems have been sucked into this Coalition with the Tories by their leadership. They now have collective responsibility for all the decisions that the government is taking, including the massive ideological cuts that are coming. Ideological for the Tories, that is.

The Liberal Democrats have sacrificed a number of pre-election policies for a share of the power. For example, in their election manifesto the Lib Dems committed to actively opposing any legislation raising the cost of tuition fees. Now that they’re sharing power in Government, that’s been changed to abstaining on any such votes.

And in the coming months and years, more examples of such policy hypocrisy will emerge. They’ll be tarnished with a regressive VAT rise and cuts to Welfare and other services. On top of that, there’ll be more examples of Lib Dems using office for gain such as Sarah Teather using her position in the Department for Education to lobby boss Michael Gove to prevent schools in her constituency suffering in the BSF cuts.

So what do they do?

One option is to fight the 2015 election as a coalition. Last week, Tory MP Nicholas Boles suggested a pact between the Lib Dems and his own party at the next election. In his article, he suggests that the two parties should agree to fight the next election as Coalition partners. As a member of Cameron’s inner circle, Boles appears to be flying a kite to gauge reaction from the two parties’ members.

I don’t think this option will work. Liberal Democrat members will remember the times when they fought elections as the SDP-Liberal alliance. And they’ll remember all the problems that went with that alliance. Clegg and other ‘Orange bookers’ would probably be quite happy with a formal agreement tying the parties together for the foreseeable future, but I don’t believe the grassroots membership share their enthusiasm. For that matter, I don’t believe Clegg, as South Yorkshire’s only Lib Dem MP, will be safe at the next election.

I can see the Lib Dems taking another option. I think that, like the Dragons’ Den supremos and the Pentagon strategists, they’ll start looking for an exit strategy at around the three and a half-year mark. They simply can’t win their core vote back or increase their share of the vote without separating themselves from the Tory party. So they’ll start to seek out and engineer situations where they can oppose the government position and eventually (in the fourth year), they’ll manufacture a split in the coalition and force David Cameron to seek to dissolve Parliament and go to the polls before the May 2015 date.

In that way, they’ll be able to come up with some reason they’re different from the Tories and why voters should elect them and believe they’ll get Lib Dem MPs who will stand by Lib Dem policy. The trouble is that the Lib Dems lack a Bannatyne or Petraus and I don’t  think they will fool the  electorate any way.

* A great stage instruction from A Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare. Not sure who the bear is in my version of events.

One comment

  1. I think you (and others) are overstating the risk of Clegg losing his seat. Hallam is very unlike the rest of South Yorkshire, and Labour are a long way behind. Ranmoor and Fulwood are a very long way from Forgemasters.

    It’ll be interesting to see how the LDs do in the Sheffield council elections.

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