Monday, May 10, 2010

Remember the LibDems?

It's easy to forget, when pottering round your Facebook pals' pages, reading the usual blogs or following your favourite twitter feeds, that politics is more tribal than anything in this country which doesn't involve a Sky Sports presenter. Cocooned in our little online world, it's all too simple to allow yourself to believe that the world outside the 'net reflects the (largely) left-wing consensus which informs web communication (in my online world, anyway).

Almost no-one is a Tory or a Republican, no-one objects much to a bit more taxation in return for a state which looks after the weak and the poor, and everyone thinks that far too many Americans are borderline bonkers.

It's comforting. It's warm and snugly and reassuring. If every one of the hundreds of people you interact with online is to the left of Billy Bragg, then surely the majority of the real world is the same - after all, one is a merely a sub-set of the other, isn't it?

Well, no. Obviously not, when you come to actually think about it. For a start, my online world is in large part composed of Doctor Who fans, genre tv aficionados and lovers of children's books, with a further sub-set of writers, illustrators and other creative types and a last group of people working in academia and social services. It's hardly surprising, therefore, that most people I talk to online are opposed to the racist, homophobic, little Englander Conservative Party. But most people aren't writers, illustrators or social workers - they're brickies and lorry drivers and shop keepers (and writers and illustrators and social workers too, naturally), and there's no particular reason to believe that that utterly non-homogeneous mass will ever vote en masse for the most left-wing party in any election.

So, you know, the Tories got most of the vote in England, Labour got nearly all the vote in Scotland and we will soon have a Tory government, led by old Etonian Dave Cameron and his gaggle of oily creeps and sneering snobs. The less well-off in Britain can expect to get shafted every way from Tuesday over the next few months and it's our own fault for so many people believing the Tory lies on immigration and the suitability of Gordon Brown to lead in particular.

Well actually, that's not quite true. It's not entirely our fault. A large part of the blame looks like it'll soon be lying at the door of Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats.

I voted for them, I must admit, just as I voted for them at the two previous elections. I've always voted for whatever party has the most inclusive, most socially aware, most left of centre manifesto. And that has, recently, been the LibDems as the Labour Party tried to prevent leaking support by pandering to the undecided middle classes, wooing the natural Tory voters with pseudo-Tory promises. In a landscape in which the traditional left and right are so close together, the presence of a genuinely socially sensitive party was a god-send for people like me and it was that, as much as the ridiculously American party leader debates, which caused the Lib Dem approval ratings to jump in the weeks of the campaign. To quote Johann Hari from last week "the gap between Labour and the Tories is far too small - but people live and die in that gap" - and for a few weeks it genuinely felt like the LibDems had moved into that gap.

Not any more though. One of the most disappointing aspects of the election result and actions since then has been the rather sad scrambling on Lib Dem activists to claim that the actions of Nick Clegg are fine, that anyone who expected a centre-left manifesto to translate into the actions of a centre left party was deluded and that if any voter feels betrayed by Clegg they're being absurd or stupid or just don't understand the Great Liberal Way. Best - or worst - of all comments I had aimed at me - 'Nick Clegg said he'd talk to whichever party got the most votes so he's fooled no-one' as though this country has been engaged in a national presidential election - what the leader of the party says in some speech is of considerably less importance than what the party manifesto said and on which basis you vote for your constituency MP.

It's patronising and insulting and frankly counter-productive - if activists want to make sure that the LibDems never again trouble the political commentators post-election result, they need only antagonise the many, many voters who switched to their party on the basis of promises which, it's now clear, Mr Clegg has no intention of keeping. There is literally no way that the Conservative leadership can agree to PR or any real electoral reform - Cameron can't even promise a referendum on PR, since he'd be out on his ear quicker than Lord Tebbit could call him 'a commie lapdog' and thrown into the same locked cupboard that that notorious Tory grandee declared would be the best place to stick Clegg while "the big boys sort [the forming of a government] out". Even intelligent and thoughtful posters like Alex are coming out with statements like "we will be going in[to negotiations] saying "I think you'll find that we got 23% of the vote and you got 36%, so we'll be splitting the power 40:60 if you don't mind" as though that were in any way at all not the sheerest fantasy. Mr Clegg will bow the knee to Mr Cameron in exchange for a cabinet seat or two, a small, largely irrelevant say in the big boy games and the chance to be remembered as the last Liberal leader to have any part to play in the formation of a British government.

Because he will be the last if he decides that he should shore up the Tories, a party he knows the majority of his party view as anathema. He will be the last if he yokes the LibDem wagon to a party which failed to defeat a tired fourth term government, fatally wounded years ago by the decision to go to war under Blair, knocked flat on its back by the expenses scandal, and then kicked round its recumbent near-corpse by the world-wide economic meltdown. He will be the last and he will deserve to be the last for throwing the poor, the needy and the weak to the Tory dogs. He will get everything he deserves since he'll be no better than his Conservative masters.

Of course it's not too late to step back - and if the Tories give Clegg as little as they hope to give the unemployed and the poor then that's likely to be a very small amount indeed. Maybe he'll get himself away from the edge in time - let the Tories form a minority government, then watch as the essentially decent people of this country recoil in horror at full-blown Toryism in action.

Don't allow your party to be used to detoxify Toryism, Mr Clegg, or lend a false air of decency to a party completely without it. Be remembered as a man of genuine integrity, leading a party of genuine change - or as the lackie of the party of privilege, jumping into bed with whomever offers him the most pocket change to do so.


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Blogger Millennium Dome said...


Thanks for linky, but, um, couple of points:

minor one first - I'm not Alex; Alex blogs here

but bigger one: you say that *I* say:

"statements like "we will be going in[to negotiations] saying "I think you'll find that we got 23% of the vote and you got 36%, so we'll be splitting the power 40:60 if you don't mind" as though that were in any way at all not the sheerest fantasy"

So, thanks for taking that completely out of context, but you *might* want to remember that I'm contrasting that as an opposite extreme to the Tory position of their having 6 times as many MPs, and *then* that I go on to say that macho posturing like that isn't the point at all.

A genuine belief in electoral reform means that we have to talk to the Tories, no matter how much we may dislike the idea. Parliament should be about exchange of ideas and not just shouting at the opposite bench.

All the best

11:24 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

I know that you were contrasting it to the Tories (and given that I linked to the blog the context is clear to anyone who cares to read) but to mention it at all only serves the purpose of suggesting that the LibDems actually have some remit to be involved in choosing the next government. The Tories - who you do indeed contrast this with - wouldn't be macho posturing at all, incidentally. They are the winning party, they do hold all the cards (bar one), they most certainly do (unpleasant though the thought is) have the right to try to govern on the basis of our current electoral system.

The LibDems got a disappointingly small amount of seats and saw their support decrease since 2005 - it's silly to even suggest that they have any moral right to be involved in choosing the government at all, and - though every LibDem activist type keeps telling me and the thousands of others who feel that way that we're Just Plain Wrong - the fact that they're flirting with a party whose policies are often diametrically opposed to the LibDem manifesto is just the icing on the shop-soiled cake.

The worst things coming from these elections has been the pseudo Presidential debates, which now allow LibDems to claim that the Word of Clegg is all that matters and that the manifesto the party campaigned on is considerably secondary to that.

Apologies for mixing you up with Alex - I do read and enjoy both blogs, for all that I'm currently feeling a little patronised and insulted by Liberal Democrat bloggers and tweeters :)

8:52 am  
Blogger SK said...

Not all Doctor Who fans and associated spin-off writers are Lib Dem voters, of course. Just nearly all.

A couple of things to mention that might not have been noticed from the leftie cocoon you mention are that, firstly, a lot of Tories are just as unhappy with this as the more leftie Lib Dems, as rather a lot of the Conservative manifesto appears to have been replaced, in the coalition agreement, with the Lib Dem one. So if you think the coalition agreement means anything (and I can see why you wouldn't, but it's all we've got) then I can't see why you'd be anything but happy. It does rather seem that Cameron -- always on the left of his party -- has taken the opportunity to try to dump the more conservative element of the Conservative party and re-align himself as the centre of this new coalition.

But secondly, and more importantly, you really can't blame the Lib Dems, or Clegg, for the Conservative government. For that you can only blame the (English) voters. Given the result there could only have been a Conservative government, either as a minority or in coalition -- the maths just didn't work any other way. A 'losers' coalition' simply would not have worked: it would have been impossible to keep such a disparate grouping (with such internal tensions as the SLP and the SNPs) together, and Conservatives would have kept hammering on at its illegitimacy as having rejected the will of the voters, so that when it finally lost a confidence motion, which would have been within a year at most, the electorate would have returned a healthy Conservative majority.

Clegg could have brought down a minority Conservative government, it's true, but the British public has a history of punishing whoever they perceive as having made it necessary for them to schlepp out to the polls before they have had time to recover from the last trip. So Clegg would be gambling on making the case that it was the Conservatives who had caused the snap election, not him -- and with a new election so soon basically bankrupting his party, it might have been hard to get that message across. So Clegg would, in that case, almost certainly have been throwing away his party's best electoral result ever (in terms of vote-share) and his last remaining seats, and ending up with a Conservative majority anyway.

So basically the coalition was the only game in town, and Clegg has made the only choice that was open to him. The only surprise -- given that Clegg didn't have any option -- is that Cameron gave up so much, almost before even being asked.

And finally, I am in touch with someone in the south-west, who tells me that there -- in what used to be the Lib Dem's heartland -- it is certainly not the case that all Lib Dem voters are left-of-centre and would hate to see a Tory government. It seems true that the south-west Lib Dems are almost a completely different party to the 'Lib Dems as the party of the bleeding-heart urban liberal'.

It will be interesting to see the results of this coalition on the party. A split back along the old Liberal/SDP fault line is probably an over-dramatic prediction, but it seems distantly possible.

Which way would you go, in that case?

11:47 pm  

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