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Monday, May 10, 2010

A Liberal dilemma

I suspect that this post will be overtaken by events.

In case you missed it the election has happened; as a consequence I have lots to rant about for now that can wait a short while. In the meantime I have a few thought that need ordering and I thought I would do it here where everyone can point and laugh.

Also I'm probably not saying anything new given the chatter all over the interwebs but, hey, its my blog...

At the moment the Lib Dems have been in negotiations with the Conservatives to form either a coalition government or to offer support to prevent a no confidence vote in a minority Tory government. They have also been talking to Labour, which may have prompted Gordon Brown to announce his resignation in an attempt to remove one obstacle to a coalition.

Of course, as everyone knows by now even if the Lib Dems form an alliance with Labour they will not form a majority of seats. To do that they need to include virtually everyone else who isn't a conservative. This may not be appealing to many as it sounds quite unstable, with lots of different priorities pulling in different directions and far too many chances for individual parties (I'm looking at you SNP) to spit the dummy if they don't get what they want.

So what to do? It is a tricky one.

Scenario 1:
Tories form a minority government with Lib Dems preventing a vote of no confidence. Any legislation will then stand or fail on each vote.

Somewhat attractive.

I predict such a government will last less than 12 months. Again, somewhat attractive because then Dr Evan Harris will get a pop at taking his seat back a lot sooner than the run of a full parliament.

Scenario 2:
Tories form a coalition government with the Lib Dems. Not so outlandish as some are whining about because their are regions of overlap with the Conservative policies (go read the manifestos or at least the BBC website).

A big sticking point is PR since the Conservatives really do not want it. Not at all. If PR is introduced they are not likely to fair well out of it (at least in the short term) whereas they do quite well under FPTP. Of course if they actually reformed aspects of their stance they could do better.

The Tories have offered a referendum on AV - but this is unlikely to pacify many who want PR. Plus its an underhanded offer - the government will offer a referendum and when the time comes the whole right wing press will fight it tooth and nail. Have I mentioned that the Tories don't want PR?

You may think that with only a third of the electorate supporting them such tactics won't work but there is no guarantee that the Labour supporters will support PR, especially with some well chosen headlines suggesting Labour would do poorly from it. Tribalism is powerful (and coming from the north-west of England I know that it does exist even if its not nice to say it) and can (and does) overrule good sense.

I'm not sure I see such a marriage as stable since so many grass roots Lib Dems are opposed. I give it 18 months unless Nick Clegg is very persuasive. My personal view is that I want complete electoral reform, but at the moment I want decent economic policies to push us through the next couple of years. That has to be a priority.

But what happens then?

If the coalition crumbles quickly and Nick Clegg can't convince his supporters that the Lib Dems have benefitted I see a withering of support in the next election, especially if Labour continue on their Damascus-like conversion to electoral reform. People are fickle. If Nick can keep it together they could do very well out of it, especially if they get good cabinet positions and have a visible profile.

Plus they have the best combined logo (bird sat in tree - thanks BBC).

Scenario 3:
As I mentioned above, Labour has developed a love for electoral reform and are offering the Lib Dems AV with a referendum on PR to follow. Must be tempting for the rank and file. Especially those who feel dirty even thinking about the Conervatives. Of course there will have to be big concessions to the supporting parties and that is likely to be requests for reduced cuts to Scotland, NI and Wales. Given that major spending cuts are very likely and there will be lots of pain to go around this will be a huge wedge issue if the pain is seen to be spread unevenly.

Such a union has already been christened a coalition of the defeated and that term will haunt it as long as it lasts. Now plenty of Lib Dems like the idea - a progressive coalition. Sadly I think it will damage the Lib Dems most in the long term. Holding the coalition together will be hard. Very hard. And when it collapses it could push the Lib Dem vote south for a very long time as people will turn to Labour to try and ensure the defeat of a Tory government. I'm not sure how much good could come from this union for the Lib Dems except if they can rush through PR before it all collapses. I just don't think it will last more than a year and I don't think that is enough time as there are more pressing priorities.

Quite frankly given the unpopular decisions that the next Government will have to make I'm not sure why anyone wants to be in it. I doubt that even under normal circumstances such a government would last more than one term. Anyway, my random thoughts on the issue.

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