Wednesday 12 May 2010

The New Era of Coalition and Consensus

I’m relieved. It seems the Lib Dems thought better of their flirtation with Labour (see my acerbic comments on that yesterday) and have come to an historic agreement in coalition with the Conservatives. It is clearly the most sensible thing to do, and I applaud it. Both sides are to be congratulated on their willingness to compromise and their understanding that the much-vaunted National Interest will best be served this way – as I’m sure it will.

I shall be interested to see the detail – for the “devil will be in it”, as usual. But the discovery of common ground between the two sides must have been a revelation, and the fact that all the Lib Dem MPs and peers voted for the coalition is a testimony in itself. The opportunity had to b e taken, not only in the National Interest but in their own. Experience of government, at ministerial rank, is a prize to be treasured, and very good for the Lib Dem CV in five years’ time!

I'm fast becoming a David Cameron fan. On Friday afternoon he outlined in his speech the broad outlines of the coalition he was offering the Lib Dems. And lo and behold, when we come to the policies they have agreed on, they are very similar. This is a man of great promise, I feel. He can broadbrush an outcome, and deliver it. He has steel underlying the charm, the command of his party, and last night we saw his ability to deliver with humility a simple, note-free little homily on the steps of Downing Street. Now for the real challenges of government...

Tuesday 11 May 2010

The Pursuit of Folly...

Well! Just when it seemed the obvious thing to do for the Lib Dems to take up David Cameron’s offer to join a formal or informal coalition with the Conservatives, thereby at a stroke creating a government with a working majority, the support of more than 50% of the electorate, and the chance to prevent the markets going into meltdown and our losing our AAA financial rating – the Lib Dem senior MPs pull the rug from under Nick Clegg and try to act like little Labour acolytes. What a shambles! What a wasted opportunity! As I write this, I’m still hoping that Clegg & Co. will see the error of their ways in time and make the right decision, but I think even if they do their much-vaunted integrity is in the dust. To have secret talks with Labour, resulting in Brown’s last-ditch resignation as a prerequisite for any further negotiation, at the same time as they negotiated apparently upfront with the Conservatives, seems underhand in the extreme. The country (and I) will not forgive them lightly. I think it will be the last time I vote Lib Dem, even for the sake of my good local MP. Activists and MPs in the LD party may feel more comfortable with the Left, but the 23% of the electorate who voted for them may well feel very differently.

And in any case, it’s madness. The numbers don’t add up, for a start. Labour have 258 seats and the LDs 57. Added together this comes to 315, only nine more than the Conservatives have on their own, and 11 less than an absolute majority, never mind a working one. This would inevitably mean instability and the inability of government to get through the House any measures except those on which everyone agrees. This sounds nice, but in practice it would mean no hard decisions, no unpopular cuts to bring the deficit under control, no new beginnings, just a hand-to-mouth existence with the primary function of keeping Labour in power.

Why should that latter function be so attractive to the Lib Dems, I wonder? If it’s just about PR, then it isn’t worth it. The voting system isn’t perfect as it is – everyone including the Conservatives agree about that – but PR won’t necessarily make it perfect. Has PR become such a Holy Grail to the LibDems that they must achieve it at all costs? Or are there enough of the Old Guard former SD types in the background of the party for whom an alliance with the Conservatives would be anathema?

In any case, if all the LibDems want to be is part of an anti-Tory coalition of some kind, then PR will do nothing for them. Above anything else, what PR would deliver is a permanently hung parliament. If this is the best the LDs can do when they do get such an opportunity, many people will be confirmed in their suspicions that a two-party system is the best way to go. I have a horrid feeling that instead of being the Beginning of Better Things, an LD choice to support a discredited Labour government which will fail within months may mean the Beginning of the End. And that would be a pity. For there are some good ideas in their manifesto, some of which might have been put into effect in a Lib-Con coalition, especially as Cameron seemed willing to compromise, and with a third of his party new to parliament, he might have been able to deliver on those compromises. There is a phenomenon known as ‘the pursuit of folly’, where leaders continue to pursue policies that are plainly leading them nowhere. It has been seen throughout history, as Barbara Tuchman’s excellent book of that name narrates. Perhaps this is one more instance.

Thursday 6 May 2010

Election time really is here now - it's today!

It's been a fascinating election campaign - dull till the first TV debate, then electrifying for a couple of weeks, but dying down for interest in the final week, which is a bit sad. It was good to hear the Lib Dems air their policies properly, and have them investigated and tested thoroughly by other parties and the pundits, too. Mostly they stood up quite well, I thought, considering the fact that the party has only local council experience of actually running anything. Nick Clegg's experience as an MEP seems to have stood him in good stead, though, and he was beautifully relaxed in that first debate - no wonder people warmed to him. He did seem different. Perhaps later in the campaign he didn't seem quite so different, and that would explain the falling-off in the Lib Dems' share of the vote in the Polls.

But today is the day, and who knows what will happen? That's the fun this time - no one really knows. Will the electorate turn off again and not bother? Will they believe the scare stories from both left and right and scuttle for the safety of old allegiances? Will they spoil their ballot papers in protest at the fact that their votes won't translate into seats? Or will they decide on a real change and vote Lib Dem in large numbers - it's possible though not probable, and would certainly rewrite the political landscape radically, not least because a large Lib Dem vote would not translate into a proportional number of seats and the inequities of our current constituency boundaries combined with the First-Past-the-Post system of voting would be very apparent. It will probably be fairly apparent anyway, since there seems more than a possibility that the Conservatives might win the popular vote without winning most seats in the House. Will that change their minds on proportional representation of some kind, I wonder? I've been surprised that they've stuck to the old system so faithfully when it works against them. Perhaps they really are ideologically conservative after all....

Poor old Labour look dead in the water, and Gordon Brown ploughs on, playing bravely like the orchestra on the Titanic, not understanding that he is a large part of their problem - perhaps the most unpopular prime minister since the War, at least so early in his tenure. It so easily could have been different. A better relationship with Tony Blair, recognizing that his strength was as second in command rather than leader, might have saved them both. Though perhaps TB would have had to take a different line on Iraq, too. It was really that piece of dishonesty, chicanery and subservience to a foreign power (the US, I mean) that sank him. No one will ever forget it, I think, whatever the Inquiry says. However, you can't discount the reds, who have proved remarkably resilient in the wake of the failure and discrediting of international socialism in Russia and Eastern Europe. They reinvented themselves in the 1990s. It remains to be seen whether they can do it again in the 2010s.

We have a sitting Lib Dem locally, and while I respect what David Cameron and the Conservatives are trying to do, and like the idea of the Big Society (and a much smaller State), I don't think our local MP has deserved anything but my support. He has been honest and hard-working for the constituency, and had no scandals of any kind attached to him. So I think it would be ungrateful to desert him. Good luck, Dan Rogerson! You shall have my vote.

I must remember to cast it, too - there was one election when I very nearly forgot....