Friday, 14 May 2010

Has shifty Clegg signed LibDems' death warrant?

SORRY. I got it wrong. Horribly so. Not just in my predictions – heck, nearly everyone who made a prediction about the election result was wrong.
The bigger error I made was in the polling booth. Me and about 6,827,937 others.
We all mistook the Liberal Democrats for a party with principles.
Those of us who believed that by voting LibDem we were voting against the prospect of a Tory government have been had. Stitched up. Betrayed.
We won’t be doing that again.
From now on, it’s the right-wing vote that will be split between Conservatives and Liberals, not the centre-left between Lib and Lab.
So much for all Clegg’s banging on about fairness, openness and decency. So much for his stated wish to position the LibDems clearly as a party of the centre-left.
Put in the position of kingmaker, he opted not for the party with whom he supposedly shares principles but the one that could hand him a top job.
That was something Labour, in their slightly weaker position, couldn’t do.
They couldn’t offer a full-blown coalition, because a Lib-Lab government would still have had to rely on support from minor parties.
The so-called Rainbow Alliance might have been difficult to organise and run, but it is a great opportunity missed.
An opportunity to run the country for interests other than those of big business.
Interests that would have included the most vital of all, as represented by the Green Party.
Instead, Clegg bought the line pushed by David Cameron (and, sadly, Gordon Brown) that what the country wanted and needed was “strong, stable” government.
In fact, if the British people can be considered as a single entity at all, what it voted for last week was not strong government, but the opposite.
‘The people’ voted for a Parliament in which MPs of different parties have to talk to one another. For consensus, not single-party rule.
Which is, I suppose, what we now have. Except that those of us who voted LibDem were misled about what that would mean.
So has Clegg, by entering into this grubby pact with the Tories, signed his party’s death warrant? Or is that just my wishful thinking?
He’s certainly pinning a heck of a lot on his hopes for voting reform.
Of all the things he got heated about in the leadership debates, he’s given up nearly all the rest.
On public spending cuts, on immigration, on Trident (where the biggest spending cut could actually have done good) the LibDems had good policies, which I voted for. Clegg has waved them aside in exchange for a referendum on how we vote.
Reform on that is certainly decades overdue. But we’d better be sure about what we’re voting for when that referendum comes around. It might not be exactly what you think.
There’s been a lot of airy talk about proportional representation.
There are various ways in which PR can operate, but generally it should deliver a parliament that reflects the broad range of opinion in the country.
It should mean that all governments were coalitions of one kind or another, probably including some small parties as well as one or two bigger ones.
It’s the way a lot of countries work, and it’s not always ideal. It certainly doesn’t always deliver “strong, stable” governments.
Under such a system, I would vote neither Liberal nor Labour, but Green – and it wouldn’t be a wasted vote.
The down side is that BNP and UKIP votes, for example, wouldn’t be wasted either. And such extreme parties could end up holding the balance of power.
All of which is interesting, but irrelevant.
Because what’s on the table isn’t PR at all, but AV – the “alternative vote”.
Under that system, constituencies would stay as they are. You’ll still end up with one local MP in a Parliament of big parties.
You won’t put one cross on your ballot paper, but a list of preferences – just as we already do in European elections.
And what that delivers is not proportional to anything. It simply tends to favour everyone’s second choice.
No wonder the LibDems fancy it.
Whether it’s worth setting aside all their precious principles for is another matter.
You may have gathered by now that I’m feeling a tad peeved – not by the election result itself, but by what the men in suits have made of it.
The immediate future is grim indeed. But the longer view may not be so bad after all.
Not if Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, was right in his prediction.
That whoever took power now would become so unpopular it would be their last stint in charge “for a generation”.
Maybe Labour can use its period in opposition to purge itself of Blairism. To revive itself under a new leader. To re-connect with its core values.
To take sole command of that centre-left ground the LibDems pretended to be battling for.
I’d vote for that. And I suspect ‘the British people’ might too.

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