The consequences of ruling out post-election deals

Back when the election was called, ruling out post-election deals with any other party seemed wise. The Tories were set to win a convincing majority, so we could promise tactical voters there would be no unforeseen consequences of a Lib Dem vote, safe in the knowledge that a hung parliament would not arise. What happened next is well documented; the Conservatives lost their majority and now have to rely on a confidence and supply deal with the DUP in order to remain in government.

This week we have seen the full extent of the DUP’s newfound power, as they hold Theresa May to ransom over her handling of Brexit negotiations. But could that, and perhaps should that, be us? At the very least, the parliamentary arithmetic adds up. Instead of being considered by many as an irrelevance, right now the Liberal Democrats could be the ones causing the government a headache; demanding membership of the single market and customs union, even potentially a referendum on the final deal, in return for our support. The extent to our influence would not be limited to Brexit, but would also include issues such as NHS funding, housing supply and public sector pay. Whilst it could be argued that the Conservatives would never agree to our demands, in truth we can never know, as we refused to even negotiate. Instead we left the Tories with the option of a deal with the DUP, a party so unpalatable that even backbench Tory MPs were horrified at the thought. When they’re not rallying against abortion or same-sex marriage the DUP are pressing for a version of Brexit so extreme that it puts the peace and prosperity of Northern Ireland at risk. It seems hard to argue that a Conservative/Lib Dem deal could have served the country’s interests much worse.

Liberal Democrat members can be very quick to accuse Tory and Labour Remainers of putting their party before their country, but perhaps we should acknowledge that be ruling out post-election deals earlier this year we have already done the same. I am not saying that we should have abandoned our pre-election promise once the post-election reality became apparent, but if the 2015 general election taught us a lesson on promising the undeliverable, let the 2017 general election teach us a lesson on promising the undesirable. Never again should we shirk the responsibility of power in favour of our own electoral fortunes; we are a political party, not a protest movement, and it is only with power that we can create a more liberal Britain.

* Andy Briggs is a Liberal Democrat member who is currently studying for a Masters degree in Governance & Policy at the University of Southampton. You can follow him on Twitter @Briggs_AndyJ.

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