Thursday, May 13, 2010

Will the new coalition work?

There is a fair bit of cynicism about the LibDem-Con coalition but I for one am happy with the result. I voted LibDem because their policies chime most with how I see the world.  I also knew that, bar a miracle, the LibDems could not have won a majority but a significant minority. On the night, the LibDems lost five seats and were poorer for it. Cleggmania was just that: manic behaviour by the electorate and media. If this was a presidential election between Clegg, Cameron and Brown - I am confident that Clegg would have swept the board. However, it is NOT a presidential election, it was a prime ministerial debate. That was it. Come election night, one would vote for one's local MP (you do know who he/she is yes?) and see how it would pan out on  the night across the entire country. The LibDems actually got squeezed by both sides on the night. While there was a lot of hatred for Gordon Brown, Labour didn't get slaughtered like the Tories did in '97. So we were looking for a hung parliament.

With a hung parliament, the LibDems could only do one thing and that was to join in a coalition with the party with the largest number of seats and in this case, it was the Tories - thereby given them a solid majority in the House of Commons and getting the LibDems into power. Which is a good thing, the LibDems haven't been in power since the 30s (I think) so it was about fecking time. They've gotten some concessions on electoral reform and Nick Clegg is Deputy PM amongst other deals. Could the LibDems have gotten the same deal if Labour won with the most votes but not the gain the majority?  Unlikely and Labour only offered t as a last desperate measure when Gordon Brown was gasping for air. Besides, it was Labour who put the kibosh on any electoral reform during their 13 years in power lest we forget the Jenkins commission. Poor Tony Blair, he and Paddy Ashdown discussed a coalition but both were probably shocked when Labour swept ahead with a massive majority in 1997. With such a lead in the House of Commons, did Labour need to even think about a coalition with the LibDems? Nope and let's kick the LibDems into the long grass. The LibDems haven't forgotten and been slowly building up their strength.

Those who were complaining about LibDems 'selling out' to the Tories - what were you expecting? If you wanted to keep the Tories out - then you all should have VOTED LABOUR on the night or pushed for some sort of electoral reform in the last 13 years. With only a 65% electoral turnout this time round, bar the deeply embarrassing scenes of disenfranchised voters on the night, it wasn't a such a big deal to a third of the voting public bow was it? They couldn't be arsed to turn out. That's how much this election means to them.  The LibDems could not have enacted any meaningful change from outside. They had to get into power. The electorate called their bluff - 'will you, the LibDems, put your money where your mouth is?' - the answer is, hell yes.

What were the alternatives available to the LibDems apart from jumping into bed with the Cons? Let's look at them:

  • If the conservatives got a majority in the house of commons?
We would be screwed. Without the ameliorating efforts of a coalition partner, the LibDems (looking so promising ) and Labour (handicapped by Gordon Brown) would be cast out to the wilderness and seething with resentment as they see the Tories cut deep into the weakened social fabric of the UK. Worst case scenario to be honest. Glad that the Tories did not win outright.
  • Sit it out as a minority opposition alongside the others?
Since the LibDems lost five seats, they were weaker after the election than before it with little chance to influence any changes. The conservatives, with the most seats won AND the the highest popular vote but still lacking a working majority in the House of Commons would have limped into No. 10. The entire government would have been unstable and nothing would get done as Labour would have delighted in sniping from the edges. Smaller parties such as the SNP and Plaid would have tried to wring unreasonable concessions from the UK government. Not a good advertisement for First Past The Post system eh? Our economy would have wobbled even more and then boom! Hello Greece. I think if the LibDems stood back and stayed in opposition; they would have been (quite rightly) accused of moral cowardice. The disappointment many people felt for the LibDems sitting it out when the opportunity was there would have translated to a slaughter of LibDem in the next election. They would have lost even more seats. Truly, this is the first (and only) time that a lot of people in the UK suddenly realised that there was a third party in the UK. In 2010, The LibDems had the highest visibility since the '30s. This was LibDems one and only chance - they took it and all power to them.

  • Go into a coalition with Labour?
My heart would have said 'go for it' but the mathematics was against them, since Labour lost over 90 seats themselves, it would form still a minority government. It could have squeaked over the 326 seat mark but only if they formed an unworkable 7-party coalition. This would have meant making completely unreasonable concessions to the SNP and Plaid. Not good. Also, the majority of people voted to kick out Gordon Brown. They got their wish when the LibDems pitched in with the Tories. If the LibDems went into a coalition with Labour, Gordon Brown probably would have stayed on. That would have made the LibDems even more unpopular for keeping 'Nu-Labour' and more importantly, Gordon Brown alive and well. That toxicity would have stained the LibDems for a generation.

Finally, the vicious back lash from some of the Labour big beasts (David Blunkett and Ed Balls) in their opposition to a) a coalition and b) the LibDems position over electoral reform made a join-up almost impossible.

No, I am sure  that this coalition will go from strength to strength. Having LibDems in the Tory government will reign back some of the more nuttier right wing policies that they have. The country needs to fix the economy, which is the priority for any party and to ensure that we don't spiral down the way of Greece. The backing from the Bank of England is welcome too. The LibDems managed to get a concession on electoral change, they have five in the cabinet in government with another 15 ministers. That is almost 40% of their elected MPs now on the levers of power. ID cards are now dropped, the first £10,000 is now not taxed and there is a firm commitment to education and smaller classes. Would have liked to see Vincent Cable as Chancellor but I think the city would have panicked big time. Business secretary is the same position as Lord Mandelson (I think) so it should carry some weight and I expect some slick manoeuvring from St. Vincent over the short term.

True, the LibDems dropped their opposition to Trident, the Tories are going ahead with their proposed £6B cuts, most likely in the public sector as well as dropping the LibDems pro-European ideas.

What about local elections? Am sure LibDems and Conservatives will be fighting tooth and nail at the local level as the parties still have differences on many areas but nationally, the electorate wanted a hung parliament and forcing parties to work together and this is what we got.

The LibDems are now in government, they have responsibility now and while there are still some reactionary right-wing Tories in and out of the cabinet, I trust the two leaders to do the right (and tough) thing as the elected government and to lead their parties. 

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