How Can a Conservative-Liberal Government Deal With the "National Question?"

08/09/2011 15:21 BST | Updated 06/11/2011 10:12 GMT

The area where the Conservatives and Liberals differ most is on what Enoch Powell called "The National Question". These are the questions of identity that can be all consuming for political activists. They include Britain's place in the world, the question of immigration and questions about assimilation and just what it means to be British.

On the face of it, the Conservatives seemed to have grabbed control of these issues, where the Liberal Democrat leadership realises that by and large their policies are deeply unpopular.

The question of Europe is one that has recruited many Conservative activists and is playing a larger part not just in people who are voting for the Conservative party for the first time but also those who are leaving it for the UK Independence Party. Europe has always been an issue where the Conservative Party's sceptical stance has proven popular - but it is now getting to be an important issue.

The Liberal Democrats are committed to Europe. Nick Clegg was originally a Member of the European Parliament and it is Europe that seems to have been the reason why he joined the Liberal Democrats rather than the Conservative Party with whom he agrees with about more than the party he leads. However as the Liberal Democrats have come under more scrutiny so their views on Europe have become an impediment and this has seen some candidates, particularly in the West Country, proclaiming a new found Euro-scepticism in their constituency even if they are more friendly towards Europe in Parliament.

For the moment the Liberal Democrats are happy to defer to the Conservatives on the issue of Europe. But with Europe in trouble, how long can this last?

Immigration is an issue that has electrified the election. Conservative candidates with a reasonably moderate record have embraced the issue and reaped an electoral dividend, where other candidates have ignored it and seen very little swing. The Conservatives know that they have to deliver something substantial on immigration.

The Liberal Democrats took a very liberal view. Firstly they have called for an amnesty for illegal immigrants who have been in the country for a long time. Secondly they are calling for a set of South African style "pass laws" which will tie new immigrants into areas that say that they need immigration. These are just the sort of policies beloved of party activists but disliked by swing voters.

Once again the Liberal Democrats have let the Conservatives make the running on this question. The problem is that the membership may push them back into a pro-immigration stance.