09 May 2010

Considerations for Lib-Dems who favour a piecemeal deal.

My political philosophy is to vote against any Government that has been in power so long that it thinks it belongs there. I am not a tribal voter, but I am not a floating voter either. I am always open to debate, and responsive to sound arguments, but I will already know who I will vote for at least a year before an election takes place. Party political broadcasts, fatuous celebrity endorsements, funny photoshops and election posters will never sway me. In the interests of debate, I offer the following observations about coalition government.

There are two parties which consistently voted against 90-day detention, control orders, secret trials with secret evidence, ID cards, DNA records retention for those charged with no crime, and many other, ultra right-wing database/surveillance state measures that New Labour introduced.

There are a lot of foul authoritarian works to be undone. Labour in coalition cannot possibly consider allowing a party with a double-digit seat tally to dictate to them a reversal of years of their legislative works.

There is also the deficit, which Gordon refused to tackle in case it further harmed his poor chances of re-election. A coalition with Labour would require a disagreeable multi-party arrangement to achieve a workable majority, with Scotland and Wales angling for big cash sweeteners at a time of deep financial crisis.

Propping up a discredited and roundly defeated government would do immense harm to the democratic credentials of the party. Especially if it were to result in a hastily concocted electoral system that assists a failed and rejected Government returning to power.

Labour has consistently stolen Lib-Dem votes through tactical voting wheezes which are never remotely reciprocal in size and effect. Labour activists have spent the period since the election claiming Lib-Dem votes belong to them, being proxy "anti-tory" votes, and therefore de-facto votes for Gordon Brown continuing as Prime Minister.

They promised electoral reform 13 years ago, and apart from some frivolous dallying with the House of Lords, nothing has been achieved. Fool you once, shame on them... you know the rest. Their crassly cynical promises now propose an ATV stitch-up that would have them in power forever, knowing that in most cases 2nd preference votes from Lib-Dems would go to Labour; and leaving libertarian minded people who oppose statism and Big Brother snooping with nowhere to cast a 2nd and 3rd vote.

Even when it has left the Conservatives hugely electorally disadvantaged, they have always espoused the integrity of a representative democracy of local, and locally elected, representatives. Even if you don't agree with it, it is impossible to deny that this a principle position, and has never been about short-term advantage.

Labour cynically offers and withdraws support for electoral reform, with no principle involved, merely self-serving political expediency. It considers its first duty in power, not to govern well or wisely, but to deny power to the tories. Anything that achieves that infantile, tribalistic goal is justified.

They perpetuate a childish, poisonous, divisive and reductive "Heroes & Villains" narrative in British politics that is every bit as instrumental as FPTP in shutting Lib-Dems out of elections. This is where your Cleggmania surge disappeared to.

Nick Clegg and David Cameron are self-evidently "new politics"; Gordon Brown is a 20th century politician, flinging totemic images of Thatcher around to scare voters; Labour are still fighting the battles of 30 years ago, and it's no coincidence that doing so delivered similar results to Michael Foot's endeavours.

That is not "progressive" politics, it is regressive politics. Blair's New veneer has been rubbed off and we're left with a party that's stuck in the 1980's fighting the memory of a now frail old woman, yet it still clings to power after a devastating electoral defeat.

Supporting that situation is not a place that any political party that wishes to retain the respect of the electorate should be positioning itself.

The Conservatives will shoulder the unpopularity of public spending cuts, yet the Lib-Dems can have some say in where they fall. One party a lightning rod for the unpopularity of the cuts, the other a conscience in how they are implemented, and neither party in the restrictive thrall of unions who would put their own interests before the financial future of the nation. After nearly a century out of power the Lib-Dems can demonstrate they have the chops for governing, and show there is an alternative way for ordinary left-leaning Britons to vote without getting dragged into ugly, divisive politics of Lab-Con confrontation.

There is every chance Labour will soon be riven by a war of Blairites vs. Old Labour union stooges. Balls and Whelan want to take Labour back to the 70's; whereas Mandelson will be angling to return the party to election winning ground with a Miliband, or some other leader who doesn't revolt the middle-classes that Blair wooed in the 90's. Gordon lost those voters in the noughties, and they'll be very hard to get back.

The centre left is up for grabs and the Liberal Democrat brand is not tainted with toxicity of an illegal war, facilitating torture and financial incompetence. Joining a failed Labour party in government could only stain the Lib-Dems. With a dodgy jigsaw coalition that Labour would need, that would make an Autumn election very likely. Tainted by Labour, and lacking the huge cash reserve the Conservatives have in their war-chest, the Lib-Dems would be quite likely to do even worse, as the Labour vote firms up in the pain of opposition, and the general public feel betrayed that Labour have been allowed to remain in government after defeat.

If ever the Liberal Democrats are to be seen as a party worthy of power in their own right, they must break the abusive relationship with Labour, and demonstrate the country's needs are a much higher priority than partisanship. Electoral reform is clearly needed, but PR has as many failures in the world at large, and aside from the great necessity of WWII, the history of coalitions in Britain is a history of failure.

Huge reform of the way boundaries are set and altered, removing the tectonic lethargy and balancing the catchments, is vital, but as a one time advocate of PR, I have gradually become very cautious about its ability to deliver effective government. The situation we have now, of a man who has lost the only attempt he has ever made to seek a mandate and yet remains in power, is a foretaste of what PR is most likely to deliver. As this goes on, I'm not sure the wider public will have a taste for it. If it comes to a referendum, it may well fail.

Fundamental electoral reform must not be rushed through to benefit a failed government in time for a run-off 2nd election. It must be explored, considered, scrutinised and debated. As someone who is fully behind thorough electoral reform, I hope the offer will be made. I hope it will be accepted.

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