Over the last year, the Parliamentary Party has understood better that if we are to stand any chance electorally going forward, we have to be seen as principled, distinctive - and liberal.
Hence we have moved away from the idea of coalition government meaning ourselves and the Tories speaking as one on all issues - which was always a nonsense. We have adopted a new approach - with a modicum of success, at least in Tory eyes - of being seen as a break on the worst excesses of the Tories. And it is now rumoured that we will go even further in the differentiation strategy. - check out this piece in The New Statesman. I so hope this is true.
And as part of that, I'd like to see our backbenchers saying what they think rather more assertively.
A classic example of this was the pre Christmas statement on Europe (the one Nick didn't turn up for - which I still think was a huge mistake - he should have been there, shaking his head vigorously). In that session Jo Swinson did receive plaudits for her measured and sensible questionning of the PM, and got some coverage to boot. But the headlines went to the considerably more aggressive attacks from the Tory right on the backbenches - the Nadine Dorries and Philip Davies types (the latter calling us lickspittles).
We still, I think, as a party in parliament cling to a notion that we're all in this together. We still wrestle with the principles of collective responsibility in cabinet - an idea that I think should be often redundant in a coalition government anyway. But there's certainly no reason why we shouldn't be altogether more straightforward in expressing our views about the Tories from the backbenches.
It's not like we're brothers or anything.
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