While we’re rejecting stuff, here’s something else to reject. The notion of a progressive alliance or progressive majority involving the Lib Dems wants rejecting, badly. You might think 2010 killed it, but it stumbles on. (Before you all write at once, yes, I believed in it, but I got over it and there’s no reason you can’t.)
Back then, everyone thought the new government would be unstable and chaotic because it was a coalition. There were those of us who started a whole web site. As it turned out, though, it was chaotic because the Tories and Lib Dems together kept pratfalling, like that time Cameron left the West Country in the pub and it went all soggy and Francis Maude tried to dry it out with petrol. The coalition, as such, could not have been more stable.
There were maybe three reasons for this. First of all, the Lib Dems were never going to pull out of it because what happened to them at the elections would have happened to them at the elections. Second, the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act constrained the Tories from pulling out of the coalition. As such, it was a costly signal, a self-binding commitment that made a stable agreement possible. And third, the Lib Dems and the Tories agreed on much, much more than they would ever have admitted, basically everything with a £ sign in front of it. Clegg was even willing to give up their support for the EU in the election campaign. The ultimate evidence of this is how many of their voters seem to have swung to the Conservatives.
(A thought: does anyone have a read on how much Tory-Lib Dem tactical voting existed? Everyone tends to think of this in terms of Lib-Lab tactics, but there’s no reason why it doesn’t work the other way.)
Since it was a stable government, it’s no surprise that it was able to push its programme through. It had, after all, a parliamentary majority of 76, and the coalition whip worked reasonably well until they let Michael Gove have a go. Although they often had to give Tory backbenchers the Gina Ford controlled crying treatment, the margin provided by the Lib Dems was easily enough to keep them in line when it came to anything important. The whips could simply use Liberal votes, denying the troublemakers any leverage.
Compare the current situation. The Tories no longer depend on the Lib Dems, but then they don’t have no 76 majority no more. Rather than depending on the Lib Dems, they depend on the 6 most marginal backbenchers on whatever issue is up for a vote. Unlike the Lib Dems, Tory backbench rebels usually aren’t facing certain termination in the event of an election, so it’s entirely down to the whip to keep them in line. Every substantial vote can be a crisis. It’s the political version of Back To ’95, good times for lobby correspondents. Ironically, the coalition had the effect of concealing the Tories’ internal coalition.
Question: were the Lib Dems more of a “restraining influence” than the 6th most marginal Tory? Well, the only issues they ever disagreed with the Tories about were the civil libertarian ones. On things like the budget, they didn’t do any restraining, so that’s no loss. The 6th most marginal Tory on, say, the snoopers’ charter is likely to be a lawyer, so I think we have a reasonable chance on that one. The only reason to be defeatist about this is if you still, after all I’ve said, believe in a progressive majority with Lib Dems.
This calculation changes, of course, if the SNP suddenly discovers it doesn’t mind Tories that much after all as long as it gets what it wants.