Iain Dale holds a unique position in the Conservative blogosphere. He is not a "my-party-right-or-wrong" die hard, and yet neither does he embrace the futile posturing of the anti-Cameroons that form the bulk of Conservative Home postings.
His politics are, I sense, to a great degree truly the "Liberal-Conservative" ideology that David Cameron positions himself as holding, and even though we may question the sincerity of Cameron, I certainly do see Iain as a fairly liberal figure within his party. As such, he quite often takes it upon himself to "love bomb" the Liberal Democrats, seeking to consolidate Conservative support from that quarter.
The latest love bomb is a piece he calls "What if Nick Clegg took the biggest risk of all?" and it is a none too subtle insinuation that since the Liberal Democrats are really "just a pressure group", then grown up Liberals would surely prefer to support the Conservatives. Indeed Iain makes no bones about the fact that he wants to see the Lib Dems wiped out as a political force.
I think it is important to respond to the piece, because the tactical positioning that Iain espouses underlines the ideological vacuum that I have identified for some time as the biggest weakness of the Conservative party.
The Liberal Democrats believe that there is a fundamental constitutional crisis within the United Kingdom. An isolated, closed and out of touch political class has emerged, not just amongst elected members of the House of Commons, but through a vast network of political advisers and "researchers" and which even extends into the media. The result has been that most politicians now come through a recognised route to power which is entirely within this system. This political elite is very small and filled with secret and corrupt practices. The affair of Deripaska's yacht showed the pettiness and rank venality of both Labour's Peter Mandelson and the Conservatives George Osbourne. Both David Cameron and the bulk of the Labour Cabinet are entirely products of this limited and narrow world.
The problem is that the life experience of the politicians in this narrow elite is insufficient to understand the difficulties of the administration of office. Policy making- for the Conservatives just as much as for Labour- has become a function of spin rather than facing the realities of substance. Increasingly the mismatch between what politicians say and what they are physically able to deliver has become so vast that the electorate views the political world with cynicism. Instead of respect for the patriotism of our leaders, the continuous rain of petty scandals alienates the electorate so far as to leave nothing much more than contempt- a state of affairs that is so corrosive as to threaten our very democratic way of life.
Despite their power, the political parties are growing moribund as the gnawing cynicism makes any party political participation socially rather questionable. Despite this, Iain Dale will know that if he had been successful in his bid to unseat the Liberal Democrat MP in North Norfolk it would have been at least as much for the handful of votes he gained in his selection as Conservative candidates as for the far larger number of votes he would have required to be elected. Likewise, when I was selected as the Liberal Democrats candidate in Buckinghamshire, my selection hung upon a knife edge: a victory of just two votes.
If we are to protect our democratic freedoms it seems quite clear to me that the closed shop of politics must be broken. The incompetently managed and partial constitutional changes undertaken under this Labour government must be resolved. The complete reform of the House of Lords is overdue. The constitutional imbalance between those parts of the United Kingdom with devolved assemblies: Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and those that do not: England, must be addressed. The shadow regions of England that currently exist must either be brought out of the shadows and made explicit or they must be abandoned altogether. The electoral system that gives the power to form a government to those few Parliamentary constituencies that are competitive at the expense of the wasted votes in the vast majority of uncompetitive "rotten borough" seats must be addressed. At the very least the electoral system must reflect in Parliament how people vote.
These are serious policies and combined with the myriad of detailed social and economic ideas and policies underline the seriousness of the Liberal Democrats as a political party. Iain Dale's mischievous suggestion that the Lib Dems are simply a "pressure group" is very wide of the mark.
The real question in British politics is not whether Nick Clegg would take a risk with the Conservatives- at the moment there is no reason for him to talk to the Conservatives at all. The real question is whether David Cameron accepts the scale of the current political decay.
Would the Conservatives be prepared to support a Royal Commission on constitutional reform? Would David Cameron be prepared to abide by the findings of this commission? Are the Conservatives prepared to see a full reform of our voting system- ratified by referendum if need be?
Iain Dale asks if the Liberal Democrats are prepared to take a tactical risk with the Conservatives. Yet the real question is whether of not the Conservatives are prepared to fill their strategic policy vacuum with substantive ideas.
Above all the question is whether David Cameron is prepared to explicitly offer the constitutional changes our country needs- and mean it. It is surely only by taking those risks that he can prove himself to be a genuine Liberal-Conservative. There is nothing in his background in the political class that gives me hope that he is prepared to put more than futile love bombs and empty air on the table.
Conservative Central Office knows how fragile genuine support for their party is- even as they see good Conservative poll numbers, they also see that their support is still very soft. They know that there is still a chance for the Liberal Democrats to make progress at the next election, and they fear this. In such a bunker mentality, it is unlikely that the Tories would rock the boat to make such an historic offer of constitutional change- however much that some may privately accept that these reforms are necessary for our country.
It bodes ill for the leadership of any Prime Minister Cameron if he fails to take that risk now. It may prove to the measure of the Conservatives failure if they continue to believe in the idea that the problems of our country are the result simply of the party of government.
We not only need to change the party of government. We need to change the system of government.