Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Why Nick Clegg is not betraying the progressive majority

To all those badmouthing the Liberal Democrats: what did you want? What did you expect? What would you rather they had done?

I do not believe they are betraying the left by choosing to help govern the country. They are attempting to keep the right wing in check by implementing as many of their policies as possible.

They were in an impossible situation after this election. Side with the Tories – alienate your core support. Side with Labour – form an unstable, probably unpopular government which would be unable to get anything done without strong-arming every MP on every vote ever, possibly setting back both parties a generation. Allow the Tories to go ahead and form a minority government – risk an almost certain election in a year or so in which they would likely lose more seats.

On top of all that, a party arguing so strongly for PR is arguing more or less for a permanently hung parliament. They have to show a hung parliament can work or their argument for PR would be seriously compromised.

If anyone seriously thought a progressive partnership was a viable option, they were simply wrong. I would have loved that to have happened – maybe with 10 more seats between them, it would have. But the maths didn’t add up. It was unworkable. Such an alliance would have required every Labour MP, every Lib Dem MP, every SNP, every Plaid Cymru, Green MP to vote with the government every time to achieve anything.

There’s no way that would have happened. And frankly, I want my MP to be able to vote with his conscience sometimes.

With no viable purely progressive option, frankly, I would rather have the Lib Dems there, tempering the more right-wing elements in the Tory party, than on the outside having spurned a chance to help govern and having damaged their credibility.

This is compromise. This is democracy as most of the democratic world knows it. This is how it works. I’m, by and large, a Labour supporter, but I voted for the Lib Dems this time, for several reasons. I don’t like Labour’s record on civil liberties, I still haven’t forgiven them for Iraq – and most importantly, in my mind at least, this country is in desperate need of electoral reform.

We have a system designed for two-party politics, which, frankly, doesn’t work in the modern world. It was designed when all constituencies had only two candidates, so to win you needed to get more than 50% of the votes. Now you can reasonably win with about 30%. This just isn’t right.

The big advantage of ‘first past the post’ is supposedly that it produces a clear winner. Well, it didn’t. And increasingly as the influence of smaller parties grows, it won’t.

We desperately need a more proportional system, where every vote counts.

People have been trying to paint the talks between the parties over the last few days as ‘grubby’ and in some way undemocratic. This is absolutely wrong. It’s democracy.

The image of Nick Clegg touting his party for sale is a lazy one. Of course he wants to get the best deal he can for his party. He owes that to his party, to his MPs and to everyone that voted for them. And all this talk of the national interest is a little disingenuous. Of course all parties believe what’s in their manifesto is best for the national interest. That’s why it’s in their manifesto.

Since when was it a bad thing to have politicians talking to each other, discussing policy, finding things they agree on and compromising on things they don’t?

Already, we hear, he is getting concessions from the Tories – for example, raising the income tax threshold to £10,000, a Lib Dem election promise. A socialist policy, even?

As Gordon Brown just said in his speech to his staff, there is a strong, progressive majority in this country. In a proportional system, that majority would now have its way. In a proportional system, a Lab-Lib coalition would now be in power. Personally, I can’t wait for the day when the progressive parties are in control. The prospect of a Tory PM, frankly, frightens me. I do not want David Cameron as my PM. I do not want a Tory government.

But that’s what we have. That’s what, much as we on the left would like to pretend it wasn’t the case, the result of the election made inevitable. I don’t like it, but I accept it. And with that being the case, it’s a blessed relief to have one of those progressive parties in there with them, keeping the Tories in check.

I gave my vote to the Lib Dems. I don’t believe Nick Clegg is betraying me in any way by taking the opportunity to help govern the country. That’s what I voted for.

I trust him to do all he can for the progressive majority from the inside. I'm sure I'll still be opposed to much, if not the majority, of what our new government does - but less for for Lib Dems being involved.

And if the situation proves impossible, I trust him to pull out of the coalition and do all he can in opposition.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, Good post!

    I like it when someone can point out the reality of a situation and just say 'Its how things are, I accept it, make the most of it!' as it seems many people are unwilling to be that direct these days, fear of upsetting someone.