Yesterday I wrote about the conflicting forces in both the Tory and Labour parties that I thought would make it difficult to get a coalition agreement to work, but I came down on the side of a Lab-LibDem Coalition as being the one of the heart and one that the LibDems shouldn’t pass over as it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to obatin PR. Well, I’d misjudged just how strong the suicide-tendancy in the Labour Party still is. Polly Toynbee writes about it in today’s Guardian – give that a read. The fact of the matter is that although both Tory and old Labour (I am differentiating here) are driven by self-interest, the self-interest of the Labour Party old guard is stronger than than the discipline and perhaps even loyalty of the Tories. They’re also more hungry for power it has to be said.
So will a Tory-LibDem coalition work. I don’t know the outcomes of the discussions and agreement as I write. That’s half the fun of writing this – before the events have fully unfolded. However, I see the commitment to a fixed-term parliament as crucial to the success of the coalition, and to the stability of the government and the political state of the nation.
Unlike the uninformed pronouncements of those in the media I see the single most important thing about getting a fixed-term parliament is that both parties have to work to make the coalition work. Neither party can walk away from the agreement under a fixed-term parliament regime … as I see it. Why is this?
- They would have to explain to the wider electorate why it was in a time of national crisis not in the national interest for the two parties to continue working together. It benefits neither of them to break the coalition.
- If the LibDems were to break the agreement, the Tories would quite rightly lambast them, as would the “bluetop” press and anything they’d achieved in government would be forgotten. Moreover, what would they have achieved in reality because the Tories would still potentially stay in government as a minority with almost certainly a fractionally riven Labour Party opposing them.
- If the Tories were to break the agreement that would take them out of government – can you see that happening? Because rather than this resulting in a general election, the Queen would call the new Labour Leader to the Palace to be asked whether they could form a government. I can’t see Cameron wantuing to do that – can you? It’s handing the power to call an election over to Labour.
So fixed-term is the key. The self-interest of both parties will keep them together until the AV (LibDEm) and re-jigged boundaries for constituencies (Tory) are in place. Having started on this adventure I sense that the dynamics of the two leaders Cameron and Clegg will actually want to make it work. I could be wrong … I hope I’m not!
Btw … to continue the footballing analogy. Poor @PGHarrison (my son) will be inconsolable this morning as his beloved Forest failed at what was seemingly an easy fence last night. I can see Cardiff (or Leicester) falling as well – if Blackpool’s spirit continues all the way through the Wembley play-off final.
The screams from the Tory (“bluetop”) press this morning are frightening. If this is what money from wealthy Tories can do, give me the “dishonest and grubby” attempts by the LibDems at trying to achieve a consensus on policy every time. When you add the backing of individual wealthy Tories (Lord Ashcroft’s name comes to mind) targeting LibDem seats and you can see that the LibDems have not much to feel comfortable about in any arrangement with them. Will the headlines tomorrow read differently if Nick Clegg came out with a principled argument for coalition with the Tories – I think so – these newspapers are totally unprincipled other than in the promotion of greed, bigotry and self-interest. Hence my praise for the Tory negotiators who have been very reserved and statesmanlike to date – that will of course break down in the event of no deal … I’m absolutely certain of that!
And if a deal with the Tories was achieved, would it be a “comfortable” one. Could they deliver on voting reform. I don’t think so. An offer of a vote on a referendum to adopt the alternative vote is a) not acceptable anyway – as it’s not PR, and b) not deliverable as the Tory old-guard would in all probability vote it down.
Then there’s Europe. Paddy Ashdown has said “We have, on one hand, the question of stability and on the other hand, the programme of what is best for the country. He suggests that having a party “that is rabidly anti-European” in power – i.e. the Tories – is not in those best interests. Like it or not, the whole question of economic stability is connected to Europe, the Tories would be shouting from the sidelines and our best interests would not be protected.
Then we have the old Labour guard – why don’t they just fade away? To hear Diane Abbott, David Blunkett and John Reid pontificating about credibility and viability you’d think they were honorable people, but no … they are just looking after their own skins and old Labour because under PR there would be a re-alignment of the progressive left and they would become as much dinosaurs as the Tory grandees that Cameron is lumbered with.
So with the likelihood of bad press whatever you do – go LibDems with your heart and principles. I don’t believe either arrangement will offer strong and stable government – it’s bound to end in tears. All you can do is hold out for political and electoral reform in the context of a fixed-term parliament and just hope that you have a good story to tell at the end of that period.
After an energetic and quite breathtaking few hours, we now have the possibility of real progress towards electoral reform. This is a historic moment which the LibDems must not let slip from their grasp. Nick Clegg and his team have been masterful. They have been tight together as a team, and steadfast in working towards what they believe to be in the nation’s best interest. Don’t let a reform of the voting system be not to be thought to be in the national interest. It will be bumpy for most of the commentators in the short-term as they will have to unlearn the confrontational politics of the past and have to learn what consensus and compromise means. What a joy.
The LibDems don’t have that much to lose, whatever the commentators say! When you have little to nothing, what is there to lose! I’m afraid I’m an old enough Liberal supporter to remember parliaments with 5, 6 and 13 Liberal MPs. Those days will NEVER return under PR – so there’s so much less to lose if there was a temporary reversal in their fortunes. What they will have achieved will be a fundamental change in the way the UK is governed.
It doesn’t stop at PR. There’s the House of Lords. The LibDems can provide the backbone to a new government to finish the job that Tony Blair should have completed back in 1997.
Whatever the electoral outcome of any decision to go for PR (and I mean PR, not the Alternative Vote) this is the moment that they hopefully will grasp.