To declare my political stance up front: I have been a Lib Dem (and previously Liberal) voter since my first vote. I don’t think it is possible (though I could be wrong) to work with those at the very margins of society and not be left-leaning.
Although I have disliked ‘New Labour’, I do recognise they have done many good things that cannot be wiped out by my horror of the Iraq invasion (tax credits have made my life much easier when my daughter was younger). I couldn’t stand Blair and have not had as much of a problem with Brown as some have – I had enough of spin and ‘charisma’ and we need serious people in government not shiny, messianic, orators. Whoever had been in the hot seat when the global recession hit would have found it hard to stay there.
I have a gut-deep, visceral reaction against the conservatives, as many do who lived through the Thatcher years. They stand for so many things I can’t accept and Cameron oozes a sense of entitlement that makes me want to throw the television out of the window.
So, where are we with the coalition? I have been dismayed by some of the vitriol I’ve seen directed at Nick Clegg and I am certainly not joining those – yet – who say they will never vote lib dem again, nor do I feel betrayed, yet.
What choices were available to the Lib Dems?
1. Stay on their own with their 57 seats and watch Cameron try to form a government without majority. This would probably have led to another election before long and probably led to more lib dem losses as voters would probably feel that they had to get behind labour or tory to get a clear outcome.
2. Form a ‘rainbow’ coalition with Labour and the other minority parties : I am sceptical how long that would have lasted, given all the different priorities involved. Clegg did, of course, talk to Labour and we may never know why it didn’t work, but it has been said that some Labour back-benchers were blocking all attempts at compromise to accommodate the lib dems. Joining Labour without getting any of their policies through would mean they ceased to exist.
3. Do as they have done, and try to make a workable coalition without giving up too many of their key objectives.
Whether they have done the right thing for the circumstances, only time will tell but I want to wait and see. If the coalition works, the lib dems get some of their policies through (which they wouldn’t have from their 57 seats) and they get a chance to have the share of government they should have for the proportion of voters they have – if, that is, promises about some form of proportional representation are kept. If the tories renege on the agreements made during the negotiations and the lib dems roll over - then I would feel betrayed. I hope that Clegg and his party (remembering all his MPs have agreed to the coalition) will have the courage of their convictions and walk away if the agreements are broken. At its best, the coalition could be a very good thing, if the lib dems are strong enough to balance and moderate the tories.
Listening to ‘Have I got News for You’ on the car radio tonight, coming home from work, it seems that none of the newspapers’ editors are happy. Nick Clegg seems to be catching most of the blame while many people are ignoring the election results: the politicians went to the country and the country answered ‘we don’t know!’ The overall number of votes being 10m, 8m, and 6m really doesn’t give a mandate to any party and should result in coalition. Coalition works in the Welsh Assembly and in a number of European countries.
I can’t help feeling that the reaction I’m seeing to the situation is a symptom of the polarisation and divisiveness that has been growing, fed by the media, for far too long. It didn’t start with GW Bush – but his ‘You’re with us or against us’ certainly contributed to it. I have been uncomfortable with the black and white, best buddies or arch enemies, tone of public (and personal) discourse for a long time. Life just isn’t that simple; morality, values, ethics, right and wrong, can never be absolute and there seems to be less and less room for subtleties or shades of grey in this sound-bite, tabloid-driven society. It really isn’t necessary to be either to the right of Attila the Hun or a tree-hugging peacenik. In politics, an opposition that is always at the polar opposite on every issue only cements those in power in their positions. If a coalition can achieve some shifts towards real discussion and some shades of grey then it will achieve a lot.
We’ve had strong majority governments, with Thatcher and with Blair, and neither have been great to live with. I am willing to wait and see what an alternative set up could do, while urging the lib dems to ensure it remains a coalition, not a take over from the tories.