What does Clegg think he’s doing?
The situation will probably have changed by the time I finish and post this piece, but, as I write, the Lib Dems are back in talks with the Tories, who seem to want a coalition to govern for a full term! That’s just not going to happen, guys.
If I was a Lib Dem, I’d not agree a deal at all. The Tories would just have to try to struggle on with a minority. The news-flow would be caustic for Cameron as his party shows weakness on a daily basis as they struggle to get legislation through.
Here’s one possibility: once Labour has a new leader they could ally with the Lib Dems and others to vote Cameron down on a confidence motion. But then refuse a dissolution (I assume this is allowed in the constitution), instead indicating that Miliband can command a majority. The Queen would have to ask him to form a government. This probably wouldn’t last long either, but would allow the Lib Dems and Labour to control the timing of an election and prepare with some populist legislation and executive action. Maybe they’d even get through a referendum on the Alternative Vote system (AV).
The trouble is, it seems to me that Clegg is a self-deluding fool. I therefore expect him to go into coalition with Cameron and destroy his party. The pretext will be “the national interest”, but the real reason will be the desire for power. Many Lib Dem voters who lean towards Labour or even tactically voted – together possibly a majority of Lib Dem support – will be long gone by the next election. And then there’s the risk that the Lib Dems will be seen to prop up an unpopular Tory government, or will be seen as hopelessly split on whatever issue brings the folly to an end.
And whatever happens, Clegg’s probably already lost the Lib Dems any chance of AV, let alone PR, for a generation.
Here’s why. Think about it. The Tories have said they will campaign against AV in any referendum they grant the Lib Dems. What incentive will Labour have to support the proposal? None. Sure, they might pay lip-service, since AV was in the Labour manifesto, but, unlike if they were in coalition with the Lib Dems, they will not expend political capital whipping their significant dissenting elements into line. And they’re hardly likely to spend a lot of money on a referendum campaign when they could be saving their pennies for the next election. I simply can’t see the Lib Dems winning a referendum on anything against the Tories, their toadying media supporters AND elements of the Labour party.
Especially after what’s happened since last Thursday. It’s same old, same old. Like many voters I might support the Lib Dems if I could just work out what they stood for.
Given all the talk of Lib-Lab tactical voting, I rather hoped we’d see Clegg talking to Brown first. By 6am last Friday morning I was able to sleep because I was contentedly absolutely sure the Tories would have around 10 seats less than the Lib Dems and Labour combined. I didn’t lose a night’s sleep willing on the Lib Dems to reach a position to prop up a Tory government.
It is simply ludicrous for the Lib Dems not to know who their natural allies are until after an election. Clegg may be a closet Tory, but whatever, the strategy is entirely wrong. In fact, it’s more than a strategy, it’s what the Lib Dems are, the way the party has been shaped over decades, so it’s not entirely Clegg’s fault. If we’re going to have PR, or even AV (which gives a slightly more proportional outcome in terms of MPs per vote), the electorate (and MPs of other parties!) needs to understand that the Lib Dems will ally with Labour (or the Tories), if at all possible. Only if the natural alliance is absolutely impossible should allegiances of convenience be considered.
We wouldn’t be where we are now if Clegg had campaigned on the basis of being a more moderate progressive party than Labour, so would seek to form a coalition with them. Or, if the party is really the wet wing of the Conservatives he should have made that clear. If any party wants to be taken seriously they have a duty to tell the electorate what they are voting for.
When the dust settles, I think the Lib Dems will find the voters are really quite cross with them.
Sorry, I’m in favour of electoral reform, but, in my judgement, the British people are simply not going to vote for an electoral system where only one vote counts – Nick Clegg’s.
A future of continual tawdry soliciting by the Lib Dems for coalition partners after every election is not a prospect that can be sold to the voters.
And why the hell the Lib Dems want a referendum they’re likely to lose is beyond me. They won’t get another chance for decades. I guess they simply haven’t thought it through.
Since the Lib Dems’ appeal during the election campaign was to break the two-party mould and usher in PR, I fear – no, I can feel it to be the case – that support is ebbing away from both the policy and the party advocating it. Don’t throw away those red-blue swingometers just yet.
Adieu, AV, it was nice knowing you.