I suppose the Lib Dem predicament on university tuition fees is as stark an example as you’ll find of being ‘mugged by power’ – ie. of being exposed on issues where you thought you had freedom to trumpet wholly impractical policies because you never thought you’d ever actually have the power to implement them. I do think the Lib Dems have been very good in the Coalition thus far– they’ve been eminently sensible about everything (which is another reason why the ‘Rainbow Coalition’ could never have worked – too many actual loonies hung up on, ugh, ‘principles’). But in the long-term I worry for them.
It will be interesting to see how this affects the next Lib Dem manifesto, now that they know there’s a danger of being in government. If they want to avoid similar embarrassments,the manifesto will presumably have to be as watered down as the Tory and Labour ones. But if they do that, then they’ll lose the protest element that gives them much of their support, and still not give floating voters a distinctive reason to choose them over one of the two main parties.
I therefore tentatively predict a split, with some Lib Dems (Clegg, Laws?) joining the Tories and perhaps a few going to Labour, leaving a small rump that will be free to pointlessly and safely protest from a luxurious position of complete unelectability. And I suppose the question then is: who would care anyway?