It is hard to know sometimes whether Simon Hughes is playing a fiendishly complex strategic game in order to leverage anti-Tory forces within his own Liberal Democrat party and thus enhance his own reputation. Or whether he just can’t resist saying controversial things.
So it was with the VAT rise. Tuition fees. And with council housing. And now Mr Hughes (deputy leader the Lib Dems) is insisting that there will be no electoral pact between his party and the Tories come the next general election. (This is in contrast to Tories such as backbencher Mark Field, who has proposed a non-aggression agreement).
Mr Hughes also told Sky that the Lib Dems could in theory form a coalition with Labour in the future: “We should have no preference at the next election between the Tories and Labour and other parties. We are going to stand on our own.”
He went on to say:
“Our party is committed constitutionally to standing in every seat. We will be standing in every seat at the next election. There will be no deals, there will be no pacts…This is a five year contract to do business with the Tory Party because the electorate gave no party a majority…..At the end of five years we will stand to be a larger party, ideally to be the only party of government in the sense that we want a majority, certainly to be the larger party in the coalition.”
Which leaves open several questions, including: a] Does Hughes seriously believe the Lib Dems can be the largest party in Britain after the next election? b] Does he realise that more of his party’s most vulnerable seats could be lost to the Tories (rather than to Labour) without a non-aggression pact? c] Is he speaking with the approval (tacit or otherwise) of Clegg’s camp?