No one party won the election last Thursday, so we have the first balanced Parliament for more than 35 years.
Throughout the campaign, Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats said that in the event of no party having a majority, the party with the strongest mandate should have the first opportunity to seek to govern. With the most votes and most seats, the Conservative party had the strongest mandate – but crucially not a mandate to implement its entire manifesto.
We stuck to that principle we outlined in the campaign, and first opened talks with the Conservatives. Good progress was made on some, but not all, issues. We were also right then to explore whether there would be greater agreement with the Labour party on our policy priorities. I have to admit I was surprised that there wasn’t, when for example Labour did not sign up to raising the income tax threshold to £10,000 to take the low paid out of paying income tax, or were unable to commit even to a referendum on a fairer voting system, or refused to invest more money in our education system for the poorest pupils. The many Labour MPs commenting to the media (such as Douglas Alexander MP saying he couldn’t work with the SNP) also made it clear there was far from common purpose within Labour’s ranks to make a minority coalition work to provide stable government.
A Conservative & Liberal Democrat government is not a Tory government. Liberal Democrat policies for fairer taxation, extra money for the poorest pupils, political reform and building a new, green and fair economy are on the Government’s agenda. This would not have been the case with the Conservatives governing alone.
It would have been easy to retreat into tribal party politics, and refuse to work with other parties. Reaching compromises is difficult. However when the country has clearly said that it does not want one party to govern alone, working with others to deliver stable government is the right thing to do. The agreement reached contains many Liberal Democrat policies that I campaigned for at the election, and I look forward to seeing these put into practice.