Friday, May 07, 2010

The Liberal Democrats should accept David Cameron's offer in some form

So what happens if we don't accept David Cameron's "big, open and comprehensive" offer?

I see two options. The first is a short-lived Conservative administration and a second general election later this year.

That would be undesirable for two reasons. The first is that it would make the government - or at least make it appear - fragile at a time of great economic danger. That would be undesirable in itself and leads on to the second, more partisan, reason.

I do not think the Liberal Democrats would welcome a second election this year. We do not have the resources of the other two main parties and it would be hard to escape being blamed for the calling of the second election if we are seen no to cooperate with the government. It might also be hard to escape blame for worsening the economic situation.

This fear, incidentally, was one of the reasons for the Lib-Lab Pact in the 1970s: we were at least as frightened of a general election as Labour was.

The second option is to do a deal with Labour. The trouble is that a Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition would not command a majority in the Commons. In order to do so it would also have to include the SNP, Plaid, the Greens (well, the Green), the Alliance Party...

This would make it unwieldy and require it to keep the flakiest Nationalist happy in order to stay in power. Not an appealing prospect, but if we keep these smaller parties out of the coalition they could bring down a Lib/Lab government at any time by siding with the Tories on a confidence vote.

Nor am I convinced that Gordon Brown, or any other Labour leader, would be able to persuade the bulk of his party to campaign for PR in any referendum. It might be possible to win a referendum under such circumstances, but it would not be easy.

Which leaves us considering David Cameron's offer.

Like most Liberal Democrats, I cut my political teeth fighting the Conservatives and I share John Pardoe's view that "hatred of the Tories is the beginning of all political wisdom".
Nevertheless, Liberal Democrat councillors are happy to work with their Conservative counterparts up and down the country. We used to run Leicester with them; we still run Birmingham.

So I don't see that there can be an automatic bar on working with the Conservatives. If I believed that, come what may, Labour must always be in power, I would have joined the Labour Party.

And there is the point of consistency. As Liberal Democrats we believe in proportional representation and in fixed-term parliaments. In other words, we believe in accepting the cards dealt to us by the voters and making the best of them.

If the hand we have been dealt this time makes Lib/Con cooperation inevitable, so be it.

Some are not against cooperation in principle, but say we should insist on PR or even STV as a precondition.

If we had won 100 seats or more then we could have asked for almost anything we wanted from Labour or the Tories,.But we didn't. So we are in no position to demand PR from the Tories. (And, again, I doubt Cameron could deliver the Tory party to support PR even if did agree to it.)

All of which leads me to the view that some sort of arrangement with the Conservatives is the only possible position for the Liberal Democrats in the new Commons.

The form it should take is open to argument and negotiation, but I find it hard to see another path for the Liberal Democrats at the moment.

Unless you fear David Cameron would go back on his word and call an early general election anyway, but I don't think that would go down well with the voters so I don't believe he would take the risk.

40 comments:

Caron said...

I think we should see what's on offer and judge it on its merits on what it can deliver rather than who it's with.

I remember being horrified at the idea of coalition with Labour in the first Scottish Parliament but at the time I decided to hold my tongue, bide my time and see how it turned out - and although it ran out of steam a bit after 8 years, we achieved a lot in that time - free personal care, abolition of tuition fees etc.

dazmando said...

I find myself agreeing with you Jonathan. I think we have to keep our word and work with the government who gets the most votes and soon for the good of our country. It would be a problem for members or voters of ours no matter which side we supported, but eith the seats Labour have we simply cant work with them this time around.

Lets hope people and voters understand

Matthew Huntbach said...

Same again. I don't like the Tories, I found their campaign appalling, in fact I found my hands rather wildly applauding when my local MP (Clive Efford, Labour) unexpectedly held his very marginal seat against a slick Ashcroft funded campaign. And I has sent Mr Efford a somewhat rude email just a few days earlier explaining why I wouldn't be voting for him tactically.

However, the fact is that the Tories won the election. We did not. We can go on about them not having 50% of the vote, but they won it in the way that British people suppose elections should be won (biggest wins all), and most of them think that fair and it looks like part of our problem is that they didn't like the idea of there not being a majority government when they had to think about it.

If we'd seen a significant rise in our support, I think we could throw our weight around in negotiations, but we did not.

Why should Labour moan if we let the Tories govern when in their ideal world, we wouldn't exist, elections would be a straight fight between them and the Tories, and the Tories would be governing undisputed anyway?

I think we let them in, give them time enough to show what they can do to meet their promises: make no spending cuts in the NHS, pay for lots of new schools to be open, cut taxes especially those on the rich, introduce more dog-eat-dog capitalism, build a new friendly "big society" in which everyone looks after everyone else, be all green and eco-friendly, let big buisness do what it wanst and renmove al those irksome restrictions like planning laws, build lots more houses, but not anywhere where anyone objects to them, etc.

And when they are in the depths of their unpopularity due to not doing this, in fact fouling it up even worse, say "right chaps, you had your chance to demonstrate what you said, election time". And table a vote of no confidence.

Phil said...

The Alliance Party of Northern Ireland are members of the Liberal International movement. The party has close links with the LibDems and forebears. All liberals should be delighted by their victory last night.

I think that Jonathan skirts around LibDem responsibility to hold noses and assist the creation of a Conservative government. We have been arguing at this election that coalition or non-majority government should be the norm, that no party has the right to govern. We therefore have to allow the party that is most likely to form a stable government to get on with the job -- we don't have to back them, just not get in their way.

"Stable government" is an expression for which I lack a precise definition. But it doesn't mean conceding to the nastier aspects of the Conservative agenda.

Backwatersman said...

For what it's worth, as a Lib Dem voter, but not a party member, I'm very doubtful about this.

The problem is,surely, that it will establish in people's minds the idea that a vote for the LDs is effectively a vote for the Tories.

If the LDs are seen to have been propping up what is likely to become an increasingly unpopular Tory Government, then - come the second election - people (previously LD voters, but not committed) who are satisfied with the Govt's performance will think that they may as well vote Tory and those who are dissatisfied will think that voting Labour is the only way to get rid of it.

Not entirely fair or rational, but I suspect that is the way it will work.

Not becoming involved in any arrangement with other parties, but voting on a case by case basis (and preferably - for my part - rejecting most of the bills) would preserve the independent identity of the LDs and preserve them as a plausible choice for the (vaguely) Leftist voter who is repelled by the illiberalism of the current Government.

I also suspect, by the way, that one explanation for the drop in the anticipated LD vote is the perception that Clegg is as,or more likely, to make an alliance with the Tories as Labour.

On the bright side, incidentally, I'm told that the LDs were triumphant winners in the mock vote at Welland Park College.

wolfi said...

Come on - you can't think of supporting the losers (Brown and his Labour henchmen) - so think it through!

I don't know enough about British politics - but you should keep your own head.

Congratulations anyway, it's not easy to be no three in a two-party-system ...

David said...

1. We did NOT promise to work with the party with the most support. Nick Clegg said before and after the election that that party (the Conservatives of course) had the right TO SEEK to form a government.

2. The Conservatives did NOT win the election either by the discredited first-post-the-post system nor by any proportional test.

3. The great prize of this election can be electoral reform. We will never have a better chance of getting it.

4. I have never had any doctrinaire opposition to co-operation with Conservatives or Labour, being pragmatic and basing my view on whatever they offer. It seems to me that Cameron is NOT offering and will not offer anything worth having and that Brown is pretty desperate and ready to offer more.

5. I believe an arrangement with Labour can be presented as a crisis measure for constitutional reform (PR, elected Lords and fixed-term parliaments) and economic stability in exceptional circumstances. There is a popular mandate for both and the Tories offer neither.

Matthew Huntbach said...

Backwatersman

Perhaps you did not read through what I said. You wrote "come the second election", but think now, it can come at a time of our choosing. Which should be the time when it is worst for the government, probably mid-way through what would be their term if they had a majority.

What happens now in May 2010 should be put by us, as it really is, an acceptance of the inevitable rather than any sort of deal. Jonathan is quite right that at this time of great economic danger we have to take account of the state of the nation and the need for some stability in government. That is why we have to guarantee to the Conservatves that we would not vote down their government on a whim and would give them a chance to show what they can do.

However, I think they did sell us a false prospectus. They went on and on an on (where I was in their literature) about how they would make no cuts in the NHS and would make tax cuts and pay off the deficit. They said nothing substantial about what they would really do to make this work. Though I think "cutting everything we didn't mention" is probably it, and apart from my local MP being one of the better ones and a good constituency man, I think another reason he held on was because this is a constituency with a lot of public service workers and after being told the same Tory lines five or six times they managed to read through them.

David said...

Jonathan, you wrote "It might be possible to win a referendum under such circumstances, but it would
not be easy." It has never been easy but that's no reason not to try. The alternative is to pass up the biggest chance in a generation to change the electoral system. It's a risk we must take.

tonybutcher said...

Lib Dems should embrace this opportunity and Pushing for Proportional Representation now could be bad for Lib Dems a blog: http://wp.me/pRHY4-C

Geoff Gilson said...

Jonathan,

Speaking as a Tory, I think you underestimate the hand the LibDems have to play.

I wrote a little Note of my own on my Facebook Page about how David Cameron has to a do a deal with the LibDems, even if it includes PR, or consign the Tories to the wilderness.

I think the Tories are about to split, one way or the other. Cameroons are going to need a home. They either find it within Government, or in a permanent splinter Party.

Like you, I agree you play with the hand dealt to you. And, whatever Tories may think personally of PR (I'm not wild about it), it's in the hand that's been dealt to us.

Anonymous said...

Agree with the general thrust of the post. I think perhaps a referedum on PR with either side allowed to campaign as they see fit.

Anyway, join the new Facebook Group! http://tinyurl.com/3xmte75

Euan said...

Backwatersman said "The problem is,surely, that it will establish in people's minds the idea that a vote for the LDs is effectively a vote for the Tories"

Well, that would only reasonably be the case if the Lib Dems only ever formed alliances with the Tories.

With past examples like Birmingham council and the Scottish Parliament - the Lib Dems are clearly able to form a coalition with Labour, the Conservatives, or neither, judging each case on its own merits.

Looking to form a solid government in the national interest, between two major parties whose voteshares actually went up and who do have the potential to agree on a lot of policies which will do the country good - I really can't see how that'd hurt.

Anonymous said...

Speaking as another Tory, I think the the way many Liberal bloggers are approaching the hung parliament scenario reinforces all the things wrong with the horse trading scenarios that result from PR (hung parliments). First I must clarify, I absolutely agree that the current system if grossly unfair to Lib Dems, it is also unfair to a lesser extent to Torys, the electoral maths are stacked hugely in Labours favour. But a system of fairer vote distribution that could also result in majority government is much more favourable than unwilling coalitions (delegated vote DV is fair and much better), where parties with less of the public vote play power broker by insisiting on demands from there wish list. How is this democratic?in 2010 The conservatives got more of the popular vote this time than Labour in 2005. Forgetting Lib Dem seat numbers as they are not a true reflection, but based on popular vote, the Liberals still finished third after a bad night, you say you will "act in the national interest" but just about every LibDem voice I read is saying we cannot do a deal without PR, we must have it, this is the policy of the party who finished third in the popular vote, it is not the "national interest". I am a liberal conservative, many on my party are to the right of me as many on your party are to the left of Nick. PR is as unpopular in the wider conservative party as it is popular in yours. It is simply not instantly deliverable to change a 150 year old system to one you demand in a weekend. Any decision should be one based on fairness, however if you want to put the party first then consider this, conservatives will believe that the second PR is signed, every future government coalition will be Lib/Lab, so why would they want to do that and sign their death warrent. Something fairer should prevail, I really am all for something that is fairer for all like DV that is proportional and can result in majority government as well. But if it results in the party that finished third in the popular vote, deciding who forms a government and only if they get a wish list of demands met, i am not sure if it any less fair or morally palatablle, than the unfair system that denies you rightful MP's. We now have the tail wagging the dog. Lib Dem vote numbers remained static, Labours went down massively as conservatives took seats of both, and yet you choose?
For all those LibDems who say you should have nothing to do with the Torys, I would like to add 2 things. 1, Many are modern liberal conservatives we are not the 2 headed monster Thatcherites of the 80's that you may etched on your brain. 2, If you really want to prove PR can work, then this is the big big chance to grasp the nettle with part ideological opposites and show it can work. More than anything dear liberal friends, be compromising and consider both sides of the coin and the need for national interest to truly prevail. I hope we can have a system that is fairer to you, I hope our leaders can work together in the national interest, but don't paralyse the country or hold it to ransom in order to try an demand something that is not instantly deleiverable. Rather than trying to guess how people might feel about you in the future or plotting how to benefit yourselves the most. The big issues we face, are economy inc. deficit, borrowing, banks. The War our troops are fighting in, record youth unemployment....PR is not so big. Best Wishes Adam x

Backwatersman said...

Euan

I did say that it's not entirely rational but ...

The trouble is I don't think most of the English electorate know anything about the Scottish Parliament, or indeed Birmingham Council. A lot of them (us?) knew very little about the Lib Dems until they saw Nick Clegg on the TV in the leadership debate.

I think the point remains that if a Con-Lib government (in any form) is successful it will benefit the Tories. If it's deeply unpopular it will benefit Labour.

If it's popular with some, but deeply unpopular with others (the North, the public sector, the poor, Guardian readers) -(which I think is what would happen, if it was at all radical) then it would polarise opinion and make people (and perhaps even some Liberal Democrats?)feel that they had to be on one side or the other of that argument.

Brett - Chorley said...

Background first - I voted conservative. Having said that, not a lot of point in voting LD in Chorley!

Anyhow, just wanted to say that "I agree with Vince".

Vince Cable pointed out this morning that the electorate had delivered a "perfect snooker". That's correct. So, let's examine it.

1/ Try to play the red ball? No chance. You'll hit the yellow and be docked points. That's inevitable. Despite the thousands of column inches and millions of TV words, this is all but impossible and at least Nick Clegg seems to know that well.

2/ Don't play the ball at all? In 9 out of 10 cases, this might be possible. However, "what's best for the country" means that today (if you take that course), you'll be mullered in England in the next election for sure. It also entirely negates the cause of coalition Government - a sensational double own-goal. The ball has to be played. There is no choice.

3/ So, you have to play the blue ball. In the perfect snooker, the question then is, what sort of shot can be played? The truth is that if you play anything less than a fully committed strike, you'll miss. Above everything else, you need to hold out for a LONG agreement because a short term agreement will kill you. You need time to make it work and you need to avoid a no-win short-term re-election. Be clear, PR CANNOT be delivered. It doesn't matter who promises it, it can't actually happen. Cameron won't promise it because he knows his back-benches won't deliver. Brown promises it anyhow EVEN THOUGH he knows his back-benches won't deliver. Aditionally, no moral imperative can be claimed because the truth is the PR Party was CREAMED in the actual election (there's no getting away from this). I reckon the top LD brass know this right well. If this is a deal-breaker, you're truly snookered.

Don't forget, there's a huge penalty to pay for not playing the ball.

Simples.

Anonymous said...

Any Lib Dem supporter who argues against an agreement (coalition or otherwise) with the Tories as being detrimental to the party, as some are doing, is forgetting that proportional representation would make this sort of situation much more common. To argue that its better to stay in your party trench rather than sit down with another party and govern in the country's interest, is actually to argue against PR, or at least the inevitable consequence of PR!

David Thame said...

Sometimes I think some Lib Dem members (and activists) view the party the same way the old Communist Party viewed themselves: as a kind of half-party, a ginger group there to keep the Labour Party honest.

These kinds of folk have fallen for the Labour self-image (the big Labour lie) that they are well-meaning angels - perhaps angels with dirty faces sometimes, but angels all the same. And that just isn't true.


Surely the point is that we must replace the Labour Party - and propping it up in some kind of lame government is no way to achieve that end....

jamescbartlett said...

The biggest problem is that the Lib Dems could be in a lose-lose-lose situation. Support either the Tories or Labour in a coalition and they may well lose out at the next election whether the performance of the coalition was good or not - people won't bother voting Lib Dem if it was successful, as they'll vote for the lead party and they won't if it was a disaster. And equally they won't vote for them again if they eventually decide to stand on the sidelines leading to a minority government and likely second election. It'll be the Lib Dem core voters only. It's a nightmare scenario which can only be offset by some sort of movement on electoral reform - whether PR or or boundary changes, etc. Fingers are crossed!

Another Phil said...

I don't see that there can be an automatic bar on working with the Conservatives.

Fair enough, but I don't think you appreciate just what a red line this is for Labour voters - and Labour-sympathising Lib Dems voters. Speaking as a socialist, I've had friends who were Liberals and Lib Dems, and frequently been embarrassed to admit how many of my own goals were in their party's manifesto. I've never been a Lib Dem hater; I've always maintained that the party was basically among the good guys. If you add it all up I've probably spent several days of my life arguing against the "Yellow Tories" smear.

The moment your lot goes into coalition with the Tories, I'm afraid all of that goes out the window. The "Yellow Tories" crowd will get to say they were right all along, and an awful lot of sympathy (and a huge reserve of potential votes) will disappears for a generation. I know I'll detest your party for life, and I've never even voted for them - I don't like to think how Labour-sympathising tactical voters will feel.

If that's what you want, go for it.

And it's just not true that the 'traffic light' coalition would need

to keep the flakiest Nationalist happy in order to stay in power

There are 644 MPs who turn up and vote in divisions, and 320 of those votes are whipped or as good as (Labour + LD + SDLP + APNI + Lady Sylvia Hermon). To win a vote against that lineup Cameron would need all 306 Tories (not including the Speaker) plus 15 of the remaining 18 - 8 DUP MPs (who were elected on a platform of not being allied with the Tories), 3 Plaid Cymru, 6 SNP and a Green. That doesn't look promising to me. (I'm doing the sums on the basis of Thirsk going Tory - if it goes your way, which is possible, the basic Labour/Lib Dem alliance goes up to 321 votes.)

Anonymous said...

YOU SAID

“””Liberal Democrat councillors are happy to work with their Conservative counterparts up and down the country. We used to run Leicester with them; we still run Birmingham”””


ERRRRR... YES and the CON / LIB DEM coalition in Birmingham Council is a total DISASTER. Birmingham was a city moving forward until this coalition was put in place, and since then the city has fallen into a downward spiral of economic and social demise. Next year Birmingham will be the first City in England to go BUST. 3 Billion short fall on pay for employees, voting irregularities, infrastructure projects mothballed, nevermind “baby P”, Birmingham has had baby A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O and P. 15 child deaths linked to their disastrous social services dept.

Michael Kay said...

If we're going to have PR, then we're going to have to get rid of tribal attitudes to politics, which won't be easy - the kind of people who hate the Tories because they don't like what Thatcher did 30 years ago are a real obstacle to the kind of pragmatic coalition-building that's needed when no-one has a dominant share of the vote.

Meanwhile, a lot of people don't seem to have noticed that the Conservative manifesto promised that if 100,000 people petitioned Parliament with a proposal, Parliament would be obliged to consider it. If that proposal were a request for a referendum on electoral change, it would be very hard for Parliament to refuse it: ultimately, it has to be the electorate that decides how to elect its representatives. So a good strategy now for the Lib Dems, rather than insisting on PR as a precondition for the coalition, would be to work with the Tories to establish the constitutional principle of holding a referendum when the electorate petitions for one.

Andy said...

I would just like to say that I actually agree with the original blog almost in its entirety. We must accept the cards we have been dealt in this election.

Euan said...

'Another Phil' - why should it concern the Lib Dems what the 'red lines' of Labour voters are?

Just as much as they aren't simply "Yellow Tories" - they aren't "Yellow Labour" either!

It seems pretty sad to consider "detesting a party for life" just because they're prepared to work with a party that isn't your own...

Dane Clouston said...

No arrangement should be acceptable to Liberal Democrats unless it makes it certain that the next election, however soon it is held, will be held under STVS ("AV") in existing Single member constituencies. MPs ought to be able to support this because it keeps their constituencies intact. Whereas STVM ("STV")merges them with others, something which, having been so very nearly elected as a Liberal MP in 1974, the last time there was such a close hung Parliament, I know that as MP for Newbury, a constitutency to which I was very attached, I would never have supported.

However, many party ACTIVISTS, rather than MPs or voters, may want precise Proportional Representation with STVM ("STV") in Multi-member constituencies or in other ways.

But we, the VOTERS, first of all want Preferential Voting, (Voting 1,2,3.. instead of the often useless X in safe seats), not necessarily with precise Proportional Representation.

If Liberal Democrat MPs and activists are offered a certainty of STVS ("AV") by Labour before any next General Election, however soon it may be held (an offer I understand may already have been made by Gordon Brown), and turn it down in favour of the Conservatives if the latter do not offer such a certainty, they will never be forgiven.

anweald said...

If the Tories and Lib Dems can form a strong government then anyone can. It's the best advert for PR anyone could wish for.

Tim Hammond said...

How about looking at the national interest rather than your prejudices and party self-interest? You really think Brown has been a good PM? You really think PR is more important than the economy? Would you rather have PR or good schools, ID cards abolished, an end to red tape and the awful authoritarianism of Labour? This is the problem with the LibDems, you spend your entire lives looking inwards and analysing yourselves, and obsessing about how elections are won instead of actually winning them. The LibDems should be the second party in the UK, you should have replaced Labour years ago, yet you let Blair steal your clothes when you were (guess what) busy hating the Tories and campaigning for electoral reform. Now you finally have a chance to act like a real party and in the process split off the Blairite wing of Labour, yet instead you turn inwards and go all shy, like little girls at their first disco. For goodness sake, grow up, grow a pair and start acting like people who actually care about governing the country, not how the governing party is elected!

Anonymous said...

"But we, the VOTERS, first of all want Preferential Voting, (Voting 1,2,3.. instead of the often useless X in safe seats)",

No we don't Diane, you speak for yourself.

After putting my tick in the box, I am not left with other options.

I don't see Labour or the Lib Dems as second best, I don't want them at all. I am not going to vote for some irrelvant fringe party or for facists.

Quite simply I want to pick 1 party/mp and thats it.

It is clear that such a system will only benefit Lib Dems, Lib Dems will vote LD first, rthe majority Lbaour second and a few Cons second. Labour voters will all vote LD second, whereas Cons would not want to vote either?

This may be fair to you but it isn't to me. To have a system, that allocates seats fairer I am all for, but you pick 1 party only.

Delegated Vote system (DV) is proportional, it can also result in majority governmnet, what we are seeing here I think is unpalatable.

The third party is calling all the shots, and picking the goverment the tail is wagging the dog

kev said...

I reluctantly voted Tory in this election. I'm very turned off by their eurosceptic, socially conservative wing but I thought we needed strong govt in a difficult economic situation, and I doubted whether this was possible with a hung parliament. I thought Gordon Brown definitely needed to go so didn't consider voting labour.

If the Lib Dems are able to form a stable and orderly coalition, proving that a hung parliament isn't so bad, and that they are a competent party of government, I'll be much more likely to vote for them next time. They have a lot of talented front benchers and good policies and I'm optimistic they can be a very good moderating influence on the Tories.

Mike said...

A little thought to sober us all up. The crisis in Greece is far more serious than the proportion of UK headline space it got would suggest; even though we are not in the Euro, our biggest export market is teetering on the brink of a depression that would make Dante's descent into hell look like a merry-go-round. On top of that, the UK owes more money than at any point in history, but we still haven't finished paying for unwinding all the damage done to public services in the 80s.

Make no mistake, if we end up going to the polls again - either 6 months into a minority Tory government or 6 months into a rag-bag "progressive coalition," it won't matter who wins because the only thing they'll be able to do is fire everyone. If we're to salvage a country worth governing, we need a government with enough of a majority to move past arguments about what ought to happen in a fictionalised ideal world and actually get difficult and unpleasant things done. The only offer on the table is Lib Dem/ Conservative: Lib-Lab ceased to be viable when they didn't have a majority of >30 or so between them.

If any party - Lib Dem, Labour or Conservative - is seen to effectively bankrupt the country in order to maintain party advantage or placate obstreperous activists, they deserve to be out of power for a generation or more.

Anonymous said...

"Nor am I convinced that Gordon Brown, or any other Labour leader, would be able to persuade the bulk of his party to campaign for PR in any referendum. It might be possible to win a referendum under such circumstances, but it would not be easy."
But isn't that what referenda are for? When it's not easy and when pushing a lasting decision through parliament isn't straightforward? Some in Labour will always oppose PR for understandable reasons, and I can't see the "right" circumstances in which a leader might deliver a solid Labour "Yes" ever coming about. The likelihood of losing still more seats under FPTP after a Lab-Lib government to a Tory party already on 307 will concentrate Labour minds wonderfully and may be the best circumstances you'll ever get. Otherwise you're looking at huge Labour gains from a Con-Lib "government of cuts" and winding up with PR off the agenda for another decade or more.

"If the hand we have been dealt this time makes Lib/Con cooperation inevitable, so be it." I'd still say that it doesn't. Keeping the Nationalists on board would be a challenge, but that's what politics is about. They'll have to make a commitment that they won't look to escape the cuts that will have to come, but that's surely implicit in Salmond's offer to join in a UK-wide progressive cause - if not, then there's no viable deal, but the parties of the centre & left should be exploring that option.

That said, it's a difficult situation for all and I wish us all good luck, whatever happens. I hope that LibDems don't let any Cameron government inflict the costs of the crisis on those least able to pay for it and who did least to bring it about: if not, Labour will be the big winners next time round and LibDems could themselves pay a heavy cost. If you must give ground on electoral reform, at least ensure that the Tories likewise concede on social justice: taming the voracious "feed the rich" beast could yield handsome dividends.

- Dave P

Phil said...

Euan - the Liberals haven't really been equidistant between the two main parties since David Steel's leadership (i.e. 30+ years). For most of that time there's been a lot of diffuse goodwill among Labour supporters towards the Liberals/Lib Dems, from which the Lib Dems have profited greatly (often at Labour's expense, it has to be said). Labour activists generally hate the party - very often more than they hate the Tories - but most Labour voters aren't activists and don't see the world the same way.

If the party forms a governing alliance with the Conservatives, 30 years of benign tolerance (and benign tactical voting) will go up in smoke; you won't just be hearing "Yellow Tories" from Labour campaigners, you'll hear it on the doorstep.

It seems pretty sad to consider "detesting a party for life" just because they're prepared to work with a party that isn't your own...

On the contrary, I'd be delighted to see the Lib Dems working with anything up to five parties that aren't my own. Working with the Tories is a very different matter. If that last sentence doesn't make immediate, visceral sense to you, just take it from me that there are lots of people for whom it does - lots of Guardian-readers, even.

Anonymous said...

Phil wrote (10 May, 15:18):
"Labour activists generally hate the party - very often more than they hate the Tories"
I'd disagree there, Phil: I've campaigned for Labour a few times over the years, but never encountered that. It's certainly true that a lot hated the SDP in the 1980s for siphoning off 3 million previously Labour votes and (as we saw it) helping the Tories to stay in power. But that was a generation ago, and even then there I saw little ill-will toward the older wing of the then Alliance, who were after all only doing what Labour would have happily done had the positions been reversed. I honestly think you can add most mainstream Labour activists to that pool of goodwill that threatens to go up in smoke. Labour activists may be a good deal more forgiving than left-leaning LibDem voters: some may even consider a spell out of government in the present economic climate a bullet well dodged.

- Dave P

Dane Clouston said...

"Anonymous",

In answer to your post, it's not a tick in a box, it's an illiterate X ! - which is almost entirely useless in a safe Conservative constituency like the one in which I live. We voters want our votes to count. No reason to stop our votes from counting just because people with the cast of mind you describe cannot be bothered to rank alternatives in order of preference.

I hope that the blinkered view you describe is either an exaggeration or a joke.

How about a government by a majority for a change? Why should the third party not call the shots - the other two have been calling the shots on a minority vote for too long. The Liberal Democrats got a lot of votes - not mine, I have to say, because of its EU- and Euro-fanaticism, even though I am still a liberal. I am pleased to say that I voted Labour for the first time in my life, to give one more vote to the Single Transferable vote in existing Single Member constituencies - STVS aka "AV" - Preferential Voting without precise Proportional Representation, keeping the constituency link. I want to vote 1,2,3.. instead of X in a General Election before I die (not imminent, I trust!).

Once we have STVS ("AV"), an EU-sceptic Liberal Party will start to grow. In the meantime, roll on a Labour / Lib Dem coalition - just as long as the Lib Dems do not take us into the Euro, as they disastrously would have done if they could have done!

Dane Clouston said...

"Anonymous",

Now it's all change again! For the Conservatives have offered a referendum on STVS ("AV") - without any Proportional Representation or multi-member constituencies add on.

If there is a way of making sure that this referendum is held before the next General Election, then surely the Conservatives now deserve to form a stable government in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, with a decent majority representing a decent majority of votes, however difficult many Liberal Democrats may find the prospect.

I am pleased to think that the Liberal Democrat EU- and Euro-enthusiasm will be restrained, and also that the Conservatives' passion for inequality of opportunity with vast and increasing exemptions from Inheritance Tax will also be restrained.

We may even see moves in due course towards British Universal Inheritance - alredy the party policy of the EU-sceptic Liberal Party - to give genuinely greater equality of opportunity. See www.universal-inheritance.org

Anonymous said...

Looks like you're going to have to change the name of your blog. After this debacle, there isn't going to be a liberal England. There isn't going to be PR either. Oh, and BTW, you've almost certainly already lost any referendum on anything at all........

Dane Clouston said...

"Anonymous"

It looks as if you are missing the point. We voters do not need precise Proportional Representation. We do need to be able to vote 1,2,3.. and so have a say between the two eventual front runners in our existing constituencies, whatever our first preference may have been. The offer by the Conservative Party of a referendum on the Single Transferable Vote in existing Single member constituencies (STVS / "AV")changes everything, providing it and any legislation to put the decision into effect is agreed to be put through before any next General Election, however soon it may be held. That is a great move by the Conservatives. And brilliant negotiating by the Liberal Democrats. Preferential Voting without precise Proportional Representation. We must now hope for a Conservative / Liberal Democrat coalition to give us the stable government we so badly need at this time.

That does not mean that I do not know how difficult that will be for many Liberal Democrats, having very nearly been elected 15th or 16th Liberal MP (for Newbury) in 1974, fighting a Conservative. This time I voted Labour in a safe Conservative seat in order to give one more vote for STVS ("AV"). It looks as if we are getting there.
There is no alternative to optimism!

Matthew Huntbach said...

Dane Clouston

The offer by the Conservative Party of a referendum on the Single Transferable Vote in existing Single member constituencies (STVS / "AV")changes everything

It changes almost nothing. It is a trivial reform, hardly worth bothering with. It is typical of the innumeracy of Tories and their supporters that some of them think this is "PR". Some of them are so incapable of handling numbers and logic that they really do think the distortion caused by the current system is because the constituencies do not have exactly equal numbers of electors.

A system which leaves the whole of Kent, Surrey and Sussex without a single Labour MP, when there were hundreds of thousands of people in those counties who voted Labour, is wrong. Labour voters in those counties deserve someone who can speak for them, the fact that Labour gets a similar distortion in their favour in the north and Scotland is no comfort. Ever heard a Scots or Yorkshire Labour MP plead the particular problems of growing up poor in Sussex?

Growing up poor in Sussex myself, every MP for 50 miles a Tory, is what pushed me to support electoral reform, and then to support the Liberal Party because Labour seemed quite happy with this arrangement whereby I was left with either local Tory or northern Labour MPs to speak for me (which they never did).

AV does not solve this problem at all, it still means "biggest wins all, regional minorities win nothing".

anweald said...

The BBC's page Would AV have changed history (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8506306.stm) shows, mostly, that AV would have enlarged the winners' majority with Lib Dem gaining many seats at the expense of the 2nd place party. Far from going the extra mile it serves Tory interests.

Dane Clouston said...

Matthew Huntbach,

STVS/"AV" may be a trivial reform to you, but it changes everything for voters, because it means that no vote is wasted, in that you can vote for your first preference and still be able to choose between the eventual front runners. Of course it is not PR, it is Preference Voting with the Single Transferable Vote in existing Single member constituencies.

Under STVS/"AV" many more Liberals and Liberal Democrats would have been elected over the years. The wasted vote argument would no longer have applied. There would have been many fewer safe seats over the years, and the Liberal Party and the Liberal Democrats would have grown stronger more quickly, at least until they became EU- and Euro-fanatic, as the BBC's study referred to by "anweald" shows.

There were no Liberal MPs in the Berks, Bucks and Oxon area in the 1970s, but there would have been in 1974 in Newbury with STVS/"AV" (Con 24,000, Lib 23,000, Lab 10,000), after a rapid growth in the number of Liberal councillors in that constituency. The same might well have been true with STVS/"AV" in the areas you mention. It might well have solved the problem you mention, and it certainly would have solved the wasted vote problem - and would have made many previously safe seats unsafe.