Imagine a parallel universe to our own. This universe is exactly like our own with just one difference: the Conservatives won a solid majority in the May 2010 general election.
So, in this parallel universe, George Osborne got up in the House of Commons just as he did yesterday and delivered exactly the same speech and spending review policy. All the cuts and changes are the same.
In this world, too, the government is acting on the Browne recommendations for Higher Education, Michael Gove's educational policies (including the pupil premium) are ready to roll, as are Andrew Lansley's proposed reforms to health-care.
Having imagined this alternative universe, I would like Liberal Democrat readers to ask themselves a question. (As we will see, I hope, in posing this question I am not trying to be confrontational or self-righteous.)
In this parallel universe, how much, if any, of this policy would you support?
Hand on heart. Be honest.
To be more specific, can you, hand on heart, in all sincerity, say that you would support:
Removing contributory employment support allowance after one year for those on this benefit who have been assessed as 'capable of work' (but who have not yet found work)?
Ending security of council house tenure?
Tightening the already extremely tight eligibility conditions for disability living allowance?
Making cuts to local government funding that will seriously hurt social care provision for the elderly and disabled?
Indeed, can you say, hand on heart, that you would support the basic deficit reduction strategy - its pace and/or its split as between spending cuts and extra taxes?
Would you regard the Lansley reforms to the health-service as part of an exciting 'power shift', or would you be more critical?
Psychologists talk about 'adaptive preference formation'. People don't like living with the discomfort of being constrained to do things that conflict with their preferences. So, when they find themselves uncomfortably constrained, they adapt their preferences. They try to convince themselves that what they must do is what they actually, really want to do.
When Nick Clegg tells the Lib Dems to stop worrying and 'enjoy' being in government, as he was reported saying at the recent party conference, this sounds to me like a big, warm invitation to his party to get cracking in adapting their preferences. Indeed, Clegg's own thinking, such as on welfare, seems a model of adaptation, as he conflates the Liberal value of independence with the Thatcherite value of 'self-reliance'.
But while comforting, this kind of adaptation to circumstances carries a risk of dishonesty or disloyalty to one's underlying beliefs and values. Down the line, in future years, one looks back and says: 'How on earth did I manage to fool myself into thinking that was a good idea?'
I should know. After all, many of us in Labour have had precisely this thought about the Iraq War in the past few years.
So if I were a Lib Dem right now, and I wanted to avoid an adaptive, comforting betrayal of my deepest convictions, I think I would apply the parallel universe thought experiment to government policy on a daily basis.
The implication is not necessarily that by asking this sort of question the Lib Dem will stop supporting the Coalition (though she or he might). In some cases, she might decide that, yes, she would still support a particular Coalition policy. Or she might decide that she should be more critical of specific policies but that the Coalition is worth sticking with to get, say, electoral reform.
But by posing the question I would at least make sure I was being honest with myself about the Coalition's costs and compromises. I would avoid self-delusion. And, in this way, I'd be more likely to stay true to my liberal principles.