Page last updated at 12:35 GMT, Sunday, 8 March 2009

Lib Dems and Tories: Deal or no deal?

By Brian Wheeler
Political reporter, BBC News,
Liberal Democrat spring conference

The Conservatives are riding high in the opinion polls but many pundits still think the most likely outcome of the next general election is a hung Parliament with the Tories as the largest party.

Nader Fehri and James Keeley
No deals: Nader Fehri and James Keeley

In those circumstances, the Liberal Democrats would be faced with a choice: should they form a coalition with the Conservatives and if so what price should they extract?

We asked Lib Dem members at the party's spring conference in Harrogate for their views.

Some were vehemently opposed to a deal with any party - particularly the Conservatives.

James Keeley, of Keighley, said: "There will be no deal with anybody. We will support what we can support on principle. If we get into bed with anybody it will be a disaster for our party."

He added: "There will never, ever be a coalition between this party and the Conservatives. Our members are left of centre. In order for there to be a coalition there would have to be a special conference - the members would have to approve it.

"With what this government has done over the past 11 years, if our leader came to a special conference and said 'back me on this, I am getting into bed with either Labour or the Tories', my view is it will not happen."

'Proportional representation'

Mr Keeley's friend, Nader Fekri, was equally adamant that there would be no deal with the Tories.

I think we can work with them - I think it would be stupid not to
Layla Moran, Lib Dem member

He said: "It is 25 years after the miner's strike and some of us have long memories. The Tories may have changed their messenger, but underneath their message is the same."

"I have thought about this long and hard and there is absolutely nothing the Conservative Party can offer us and the Labour Party have squandered any goodwill."

Ian Eiloart, a Lib Dem councillor from Lewes, backed the idea - never attempted before in British politics, apart from a brief, turbulent period in 1974 - of governing through ad hoc deals between parties rather than through a formal coalition such as the Lib/Lab pact of the late 1970s.

Ian Eiloart
Ian Eiloart thinks the party should continue to go it alone

He said: "I don't think the party should strike a deal with the Conservatives or Labour. They should work together with the other parties on individual issues.

"If there was one issue on which to do a deal it would be proportional representation, but it would have to be a very good PR deal.

"But there is no good getting a PR deal in place, if people then think we are an unprincipled party, so that people think you compromised on this, what else are you going to compromise on?"

"Maybe they will have to compromise on some things, but I don't think it is necessary to form a coalition. I don't see why the largest party needs to be the one that forms the government."

'Stupid not to'

Other Lib Dem members took a more pragmatic view.

Susan Gaszczak
But Susan Gaszczak takes a more pragmatic view

Susan Gaszczak, a member of the Federal Conference Committee, said: "At the time of a general election result, that is the time to have discussions with either the Conservative or Labour Party, if that party is in power.

"If we held the balance of power we would have to consider how best to deliver our Liberal agenda."

Others were happy to contemplate a tie-up with the Tories, with certain conditions.

Layla Moran, from London, said: "I think we can work with them. I think it would be stupid not to. But I think we would have to control them as much as we possibly can and get ourselves elected off the back of it."

Stan Heptinstall
Stan Heptinstall would like to see cooperation at a national level

Her friend, Karelia Scott-Daniels, went even further, arguing it would be relatively easy to "control" the Conservatives because "I seriously believe they have got no policies of their own".

Stan Heptinstall, leader of the Lib Dem group on Nottinghamshire county council, said Lib Dems worked with other parties all the time at a local level and he did not see why it could not happen at Westminster.

He said he was frustrated by the "attitude of Liberal Democrats at a national level to get involved with taking on positions of responsibility. If we have an opportunity to do something positive we should do it".

But some party members simply refused to answer the question.

"I don't think we are supposed to talk about that," said one woman, who declined to be named.

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