I had a brief discussion with a few people on Twitter yesterday about how we think the media will now handle the Lib Dems.
Members have often complained that our party does not get a fair crack of the whip in terms of media coverage and it is often seen in terms of the number of slots we get on things like BBC Question Time and other political programmes.
I think we will see a couple of contradictory effects.
Firstly we may find that we actually get fewer slots for programmes like Question Time. Because we will be members of a government whose ministers and to some extent MPs take a "coalition line" it might seem odd to regularly have more than one representative for that coalition on panels. However as Lib Dems we need to make sure that we fight for fair representation in this respect. We got 24% of the vote which is 2/3rds of the total the Conservatives got (they are the key figures, not seats) and we are still a distinctive party who will be fighting elections on our own. It would be unacceptable to be squeezed to a disproportionate level. The media will have to find a reasonable way to accommodate this. Perhaps the way smaller coalition partners are treated by the media in other countries could be instructive here.
Secondly, a contrary effect to this is likely to be that what people within the party say and do will be treated more seriously and covered accordingly. We are now in government so what Nick Clegg, Vince Cable, Chris Huhne and David Laws etc. think and say about issues is very important. They have the power to actually effect change. Each Lib Dem cabinet minister will have more power and influence than whoever is Leader of the Opposition, at least for the first few years of the government. The same will be true but to a lesser extent for the 20 or so junior Lib Dem ministers. We will see effects like Lib Dem conferences being taken much more seriously. No longer will some elements of the press be able to effectively ignore them. We now make up nearly a quarter of the cabinet after all.
We also need to make sure that on issues such as the AV referendum where the Lib Dems and the Conservatives are likely to be on opposite sides that the Lib Dems are heard properly.
It will take time for our political culture to adjust to the new reality and that includes politicians, the media and the public.
You can rest assured that Lib Dem activists will be watching to make sure that we are given a fair crack of the whip. We are just in coalition. We have not merged with the Tories!