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By Matthew Barrett
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November's edition of Standpoint magazine, which is released on Thursday, carries an article by Mark Littlewood, currently the Director General of the Institute of Economic Affairs, and formerly the head of media for the Liberal Democrats from 2004 until 2007. In his article, Mr Littlewood advocates a pact between free market Lib Dems and Conservatives after the next election, in which the Conservatives stand down in Lib Dem seats where the yellow candidate agrees to pursue deficit reduction and free market policies, and signs up for a new coalition. Mr Littlewood says:
"The arrangement he should seek with free market-leaning (“Orange Book”) Lib Dem MPs should be unilateral but not universal. It would essentially amount to an offer to withdraw the Conservative candidate from those seats in which an incumbent Liberal was willing publicly to take a pledge to continue the work of the coalition beyond 2015, specifically in regard to swiftly completing the process of fiscal consolidation, preferably at a rather more rapid pace than at present."
Mr Littlewood suggests such an arrangement would be particularly attractive to those Lib Dem MPs currently holding positions of office:
"Not only do they find it harder to distinguish themselves politically from their coalition partners, but they have far less ability to practise the tried and tested Lib Dem technique of “digging in” in their own constituency. If you are a government minister, your ability to pound the pavements of your local patch and to be a constant presence at civic functions is substantially diminished."
It would also be attractive, he says, for CCHQ strategists, who will need to deploy the right resources to hold off against the main opposition, Labour:
"Do the Conservatives really consider it wise to expend considerable amounts of time, energy and money attempting to unseat, say, David Laws in Yeovil or Jeremy Browne in Taunton? Might such efforts be better directed towards retaining current Conservative seats or perhaps even making a few gains from Labour?"
Mr Littlewood concludes by saying that if the Coalition is to have a message of free market liberalism, or indeed any message greater than clearing up Labour's mess…
"…the Prime Minister should reach beyond the confines of the Conservative Party to build a wider coalition with classical liberals. The alternative could well be a one-term administration which promised very little and delivered even less."
I am not persuaded by the argument that 20 Lib Dem MPs would be worth giving a free pass to. There are a number, as Mr Littlewood mentions, like David Laws and Jeremy Browne, who are fairly safe and would take some effort to oust at the next election. However, there are a number of Lib Dem MPs who would fall into the category of "free market-leaning" who are simply too electorally imperilled to ignore, and the Tories should take advantage and stand against them. We shouldn't want Lib Dem MPs, no matter how "sound", to be handed seats for life by refusing to fight them when they are likely to be at their weakest for many years.