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Martin Horwood MP

Into bed with the tories! crack

On 6 May Lib Dems in Cheltenham were fighting street by street for those last few votes we thought might save us from the Conservatives. A day later, we knew we’d held on by a surprising 4,920. Thank you, if you were one of them!

No time to celebrate. The next day, 57 Lib Dem MPs were summoned to London to discuss what to do now that you, dear electors, had landed us in a right pickle.

The Conservatives had won the most seats and votes but no majority. Labour lost both and could only hang on with help from us, the SNP, Uncle Tom Cobley and all – and maybe a chisel to get Gordon out of No.10. Fair Votes protesters clamoured outside as we gave our team clear instructions to negotiate on the Lib Dem priorities people had voted for: fairer taxes, more cash for schools, a greener economy and political reform. The Conservatives were already offering concessions. ‘Beware of Tories bearing gifts’ said Charlie Kennedy. So we urged talks with Labour too and I headed back to Cheltenham for some long overdue family time.

Sunday 9 May. Helped kids clean out the guinea pigs’ cage.

Back to Westminster on Monday, and the talks were still going strong at midnight with sleep-deprived journalists outside. The news from Labour was hopeless: no movement on green priorities, dropping ID cards or even fairer taxes. In their heads, they were already in opposition throwing rocks at the nasty government that had to make all the spending cuts. Try again, we said, but it was dawning on everyone that only ‘Dave’ was serious about getting into bed with us. We could have let him go it alone, just promising not to pull the duvet off. But we’d be blamed for flirting anyway – with none of the benefits of a lasting relationship.

On Tuesday the nation’s long affair with New Labour ended. Gordon had gone – with real dignity in the end – and Dave entered Number Ten. But there was still no deal. That evening Lib Dem MPs met again. We could still have said no. The Federal Executive, representing the party in the country, could have said no. But after 65 years in opposition, we all realised it was finally time to put at least some of our policies
into practice. We were still shocked that it was the Tories who had shifted on tax and political reform and offered a coalition almost all of us could vote for. And when thousands of party members gathered the following Saturday in an aircraft hangar in Birmingham (sorry, NEC Hall), they agreed by an even more massive, almost North Korean, majority. There was, in the end, no alternative.

So we Lib Dems have lost our political virginity – and with someone we didn’t fancy much to start with. It may end in tears. Some of the in-laws are complaining about us already. But you have to take chances in life, especially if the result could be to change Britain for good.

Martin Horwood is Member of Parliament for Cheltenham.