The general Election of 2010 gave no party what it wanted, All the parties lost, and that was clearly the message that the electorate deliberately sent to the political class. For the Liberal Democrats, the loss was doubly painful, since the party seemed to be at the point of making a breakthrough that could have changed British politics. In the end, the Liberal Democrats made no progress, despite the widely held view that the party and its leader, Nick Clegg, had fought the best campaign. Indeed several losses- and very near misses- were extremely painful. In that sense, the offer of a coalition that came from David Cameron was made to a party that was somewhat demoralised and very disappointed.
Now the media, from Paxman down, can barely utter the word "Coalition" without a sneer. The naked hostility of the left that has been turned on the Liberal Democrats has been a shock. However, we are told, "welcome to politics as normal in the big league". Except it is not politics as normal: the intimidation and violence shown to the Liberal Democrats by the thugs of the extreme left is not politics as normal. It is a national disgrace. No party should be forced to cancel its meetings because of the threats of the left. No party should have to increase security on its M.P.s homes, because they are being attacked by leftist criminals. Verbal abuse on the street is one thing, but dog shit through letter boxes and vandalism is quite another.
So clearly our Parliamentary Party feels physically threatened. It is also true that most of them have great doubts about supporting the Coalition policy on tuition fees. Nevertheless, the fact is that the battle amongst the students will have to wait for the new generation of students who will be at college at the next election. The Leftists and the hypocritical leadership of the NUS are a lost cause for the Liberal Democrats: it now makes no sense to equivocate with them: the party must now rally round and support the policy.
However this is not without a quid-pro-quo from the Conservatives.
The time has now come for the constitutional policies of the Coalition, including PR for the House of Lords and Local Authorities to be embraced fully by the Conservatives. Whatever equivocation many Conservatives feel about the prospect of electoral reform in the Commons, they have definitely signed up for it for the Lords. More to the point, those Tories, like John Major who support the idea of continuing the coalition, must now realise that the acid test will be the referendum on Commons reform next year. If a large number of Tories come out to support the "Yes" vote, then the coalition will become a lost less uncomfortable for the Liberal Democrats.
At the moment the Leftist narrative of "Tory Bastards and unprincipled and weak Lib Dems" is becoming conventional wisdom, even as the very concept of policy in the Labour Party evaporates in a mist of Milband opportunism. It is time for the Lib Dems to accept that the student battle is lost, but that there are and will be more important battles to fight- especially on the constitution. Abstaining on the student fees vote does look weak, and we shouldn't do it.
The party must hold its nerve: the biggest prize of all, real reform of our state, remains within our grasp and we should not be jolted by the thugs and criminals who are our most bitter enemies.
The Coalition is the only game in town: we have to make it work for the benefit of as many Liberal Democrat ideas as we can. We can not get all we wanted, but then we lost the election. We can however make more progress over the next year than over the last 70 years.
It is time to swallow hard, stay united, and keep our eye on the real prize. Despite the thugs, we should remember: we have a responsibility to the country, to our ideas and to our party, and that the thug must not prevail in British Politics.