Friday, May 14, 2010

ConDem the Coalition

After spending the majority of my voting life as a supporter of the Labour party, it took a great deal of introspection and will to change my allegiance and vote for the Liberal Democrats this year. I remember the optimism of 1997 and those first years of hope and transformation. I wasn't one who rushed to condemn Blair for the invasion of Iraq. The charges were trumped up, but the goal - I believe - was a good one: to increase stability in an area of the World that we are dependent on. When Blair left office, I wasn't all that keen for him to go. When Brown took over I didn't think it was illegitimate that he was PM - we don't live in a Presidential democracy where our leader is directly elected. The PM is not the Head of State, he is the leader of the party in power. If we did have elections for Head of State, the Queen would have probably been voted out in favour of the Beckhams a few years ago. I even thought that he did a pretty good job of protecting us from the worst of the recession.

So I'm not a typical Liberal, on paper at least.

But I believe that along with much of the good that Labour has ushered in has also come a fair bit of bad. Civil liberties have suffered greatly and looked set to do so even more if they stayed in power. The evidence/results based approach to policy that Labour originally had seems to have been replaced with something much more knee-jerk and tabloid. Their stance on immigration is awful, with a neglect for presenting the facts properly in favour of headline grabbing statements of showing who is toughest.

It was this tendency - a tendency to respond to the baying of the public rather than to silence them - that made me lose faith in the Labour Party.

After looking into it further, I found that the Lib Dems are more closely aligned to my view of the world. They're keen on science (although their fantastic Dr Evan Harris lost out in the election, which is a tragedy) and are rational in their approach. An ethical pragmatism seems to permeate their policy decisions.

So as a left-leaning liberal, I greeted the election result with a certain amount of confusion. I was genuinely conflicted in my views. My heart pushed me towards a Lib Lab coalition. This seemed to be the best way to guarantee that an agenda closest to the manifesto that I voted for would be drawn up. But then other factors weighed in:

1) Most importantly, the numbers weren't there. A Lib-Lab coalition would still be a minority government. Sure, they could bring in other lefty parties to form a rainbow coalition. But either leading as a minority or as the head of a rainbow coalition would be tenuous. The last thing anyone needs right now is another election. It's costly and would put us in limbo for longer than we already have been. It would crush liberal support as the electorate would be desperate for a "decisive" result and any hopes of collaborative government would go down in a blaze of outrage at how bad the coalition had performed. Worse, the Tories are the only party that have the money to mount a successful campaign, so you can imagine how that decisive result would go.

2) The bulk of the Labour party seemed to be settling for a reboot in opposition as early as the Saturday after the election. Not only did this not bode well, but it hinted at the ill-discipline of the party. One thing that a coalition needs is discipline and if it's breaking down even before the coalition has been formed, this doesn't bode well.

3) Labour seemed to have a preconceived notion that the Lib Dems would automatically make a deal with them. This was perhaps natural as they are more happy bed-fellows on the surface and also because I believe they miscalculated in how much the swing would be and how bad things would turn out (in terms of seats) for the Lib Dems. But this complacency seemed to imply a lack of compromise. I didn't vote for the Labour manifesto, I voted for the Lib Dem one. I certainly didn't pay for the Lib Dems to prop up Labour.

4) The noises coming from the Conservatives were genuinely encouraging. People that I naturally dislike were actively flirting with the Lib Dems. Whether it was a cynical grab for power or a genuine act of collaboration remains to be seen. But it was better than the assumption that was coming from Labour.

So the options were:

1) A minority Conservative Government, standing virtually alone. This would likely be voted down on the Queen's speech and lead to an election that we could ill afford and would likely leave us with a majority Conservative government and fewer Lib Dems in parliament.

2) A minority Conservative Government, with some kind of tacit support from the Lib Dems. This would be more stable than (1) but would probably still lead to an election in a couple of years with the same result. In addition, the Lib Dems would get very little for their tacit support. They wouldn't have given enough to have any of their policies put through and they would lose a great deal more as the blame would be levelled at them when the government inevitably fell.

3) A minority Labour Government. This would definitely be voted down on the Queen's speech and lead to an even more disastrous election.

4) A minority Lib-Lab coalition or majority rainbow coalition. This might be able to limp on past the Queen's speech but would likely be brought down as soon as any cuts needed to be made in Scotland, Wales or NI as the nationalist parties revolted.

5) A majority Lib-Con coalition. The only real hope of avoiding another election, so the only real hope of stability.

As it turns out, we've got (5) but we seem to have got quite a good (5). Some of the excesses of both sides seem to have been curtailed. We've lost the inheritance tax changes that the Tories would have liked to bring in. We've also got rid of one of the few policies that I was iffy on in the Lib-Dim manifesto, which is their opposition to nuclear power (where it seems that it might be our only option in terms of a relatively non-polluting option).

In addition to this, we seem to have got some biggies through, chief among them Electoral Reform. Not just a referendum on a voting system (AV) but also a possible introduction of PR in the House of Lords. The two in combination may actually be a better bet than PR on it's own for the House of Commons as it creates two differently elected (and therefore slightly conflicting) houses. Plus, we seem to have got quite a few Lib Dems in relatively senior positions.

The signals being sent out are positive. There seems - at the moment - to be a genuine will to make this work. I have my reservations (the 55% no confidence thing seems good from a stability standpoint, but not from a constitutional one) and I know that there will be trying times ahead. But for the moment, Nick and friends have my wholehearted support. And Dave - just watch yourself, OK. Cos I've got my eye on you. I don't trust you, but for the moment you're doing OK.


All this stuff about Gordon Brown squatting in Downing Street is bollocks. He behaved as a true statesman from the Sunday before the election to the day that he resigned. With the election result that we had he could either hand power over to a minority Conservative party by resigning - which would have strengthened the Tory hand in negotiations with the Lib-Dems and perhaps given encouragement to those Tories that wanted the party to go it alone - or try to form a minority or coalition government himself, which he did (while honouring the Lib Dem commitment to talk to the party with the most seats first). When it became evident that the Lib Dems would never enter a coalition that had Brown as leader, he stepped down in the only way he could (constitutionally). If he resigned immediately, he would have lost the right to form a government. Resign in a matter of days, weeks or a couple of months and he would have curtailed a proper debate about his successor - let alone interrupted the important work that a new government would have to do. Personally, I think he behaved impeccably in those final days.

And this crap about the Lib Dems behaving like harlots is rubbish too. They behaved like a party negotiating for the best deal for the people that voted for it. They talked to both sides - as you do in negotiations - and they held out for what was most important to them. When it became apparent what was best for them (and in turn for the country - I don't believe it was entirely altruistic, but do believe that what the country believed was best for it would in turn be best for them... if that makes sense) they went with that option. They weren't virginal saints in their approach, but they were what they should have been - discrete, pragmatic and in the end, decisive when they needed to be.

No comments:


My ugly mug and my beautiful family Geek Stuff