it had become clear he did not have strong enough support among MPs and had decided to quit with immediate effect.Good. Having been reading blogs and comments in many locations, it had become clear to me, as with many others, that, no matter how much we like the bloke, his position was untenable. I wish him well, hope he can recover from his problems and, specifically, hope that he can both remain in politics and return to a frontbench position at some point; talent such as his should not be thrown away. So...
Where now?Well, we've observed before that British Politics is facing a paradigm shift. Arguments over the traditional left and right (economics and ownership) are, while still there, mostly now a matter of details. Under Cameron, the Conservative and Unionist party is embracing it's socially liberal wing, and appears to be pushing away from the bureacratic centralism of Blair's NuLabour and the utter distrust of the people typified by Thatcher.
Cameron's ConservativesThis is a natural process, Blair has captured the authoritarian centre, Brown is very likely to stay there, so Cameron is forced to take the fight to other areas where there is genuine disagreement. Many LibDems, it appears, are of the opinion that this is a huge threat to them as a party, that they need to fight Cameron and fear his effect on their polling numbers. Well, of course they do, but he's not the massive threat to them they think he is. Under Howeard, IDS and Vague, the Tories adopted a 'core votes' strategy. They knew they couldn't win; the electoral mechanics, constituency boundaries and perception of the electorate guaranteed that, so they concentrated on shoring up their core votes, reassuring their traditional base that they were still there.
Now, Cameron's Conservatives are pushing out from their core votes, and looking to pick up a broader base of support. They know that their core voters don't, currently, have anywhere else to go (except, possibly, UKIP, hence the posturing over the EPP), so are prettty sure that they will keep them, for at least awhile. After all, despite everything, Labour hasn't seen a serious challenge to it on the traditional left, Respect polls well in a few constituencies, but that's it. The Simple Majority system makes this inevitable. Can they, in any way, be trusted to maintain this 'liberal' position in power? Who knows. Traditional Tories don't like it, but they may be forced to accept it. The LibDems need to react and adapt to this, as do Labour, but it is wrong to react to this as if we're still fighting the economic battles of the 1980s.
Left, Right or somewhere else?Cameron seeks the "centre ground" economically, but is also seeking the liberal, anti-state agenda. Good. That menas the LibDems can work with him, do business with him, and, where necessary, campaign alongside him. Just as they did with Blair pre-1997. New Labour must be defeated at the next General Election. Partizan posturing won't help this objective.
The objective for the LibDems must, therefore, be to ensure that the Government that replaces it genuinely embraces liberal values. To do that, it needs to maximise its vote, maximise its representation and win in as many constituencies as possible.
How?By emphasing the failures of Blairs government, fighting NuLab in the constituencies where even Camerons new found 'liberalism' will not give them a chance, and emphasising the differences between them and the Conservatives.
The next General Election will be a genuinely three-way battle, in a way that even 2005 was not. Why? Because in many many constituencies up and down the country, traditional Labour voters know that the only way they can get a Labour MP removed is to vote LibDem. In those very same constituencies, traditional Tory voters, who exist even in the safest of Labour seats, must be shown that the only way to help Cameron's Conservatives is to vote for the candidate best placed to defeat Labour.
But what about the LibDem-Tory battlegrounds?Well, you see, it's these battlegrounds that are crucial. In those battlegrounds, the LibDems need to keep the voters from the soft left that they picked up during the anti-Tory years. It is those voters upon whom they will need to rely in order to keep their existing MPs. In those seats, they need to fight Cameron's Conservatives over economics, over Europe, over electoral and constitutional reform.
Building the new coalitionCameron's apparent conversion of the old Tory party into a modern, forward looking liberal party is a welcome, and necessary, developement in British politics. Those of us who looked on in horror at the old Tory government can, it appears, approach Cameron's Tories with cautious optimism; they are no longer at the top right, enemies of the blood, but at the bottom mid-right, enemies merely of the head.
It is esential, in the months to come, that the LibDems recognise the new shape of British politics, and look to a leader who can both work, constructively, with Cameron on areas, such as civil liberties and personal freedoms, where they agree. But that leader also needs to be able to strongly emphasise the differences, push that they're not both the same, that it's not a case of "vote LibDem, get Tory".
The LibDems need a leader from the Liberal Left.But, hopefully, one that can make the case strongly this time.
Update: Full speech with emphasis in the comments.