Saturday, 15 May 2010

Traitors sneer?

There has been much from Liberal Democrat bloggers justifying their coalition- for example, this post at Liberal Democrat Voice does so by pointing out that some of their policies will get through and that experience in government will give them a stronger platform from which to fight the next election.

I'm not at all unhappy with the choice made by the Liberal Democrats in going into coalition with the Conservatives- as people have said, it was the only viable option, and the choice to open talks with Labour wasn't a waste- even if the idea of a Rainbow Coalition was doomed before the start it was a useful myth allowing the Liberal Democrats maximum negotiating leverage. All of this is fair enough, we have a new government and it is a government that fairly holds the confidence of the House of Commons.

But there is an issue with the way that the Liberal Democrats acted before the election. This is what the Liberal Democrats don't get. Their supporters, of which there were far too many, were told to vote Liberal Democrat "to keep the Tories out". They were told to vote Liberal Democrat for PR, for an amnesty for illegal immigrants- the Lib Dems in my area were aghast at any suggestion that they would go into coalition with the Tories despite Nick Clegg's self-indulgent pledge to give the party with the most seats the first go- which he did knowing full well that it would be the Tories. It was a way to make this coalition seem inevitable, to make Clegg seem like a principled man in difficult circumstances and appease idealistic, progressive supporters in case a Lab-Lib coalition could have formed a majority that was undesirable to the leadership.

In other words, "Not me, guv, it's the rules... that I was under no encouragement to commit myself to...but still, not my fault..."

They were aghast at any such suggestion- the idea that the Liberal Democrats could ally themselves to the children of Thatcher was readily dismissed as "Labour spin" and fearmongering by the very people now cheerleading this union. And Labour lost votes because of it.

Many of the votes won by the Liberal Democrats were won based on pledges and promises that they knew they would break. If they knew that this coalition was a possibility, which they must have done, then they should have made it clear to voters before the election. Is it really honest to declare the Conservatives to be allied with "extremists" to win votes during the campaign, and then prop up William Hague as Minister for Europe?

A coalition government is fine and well- but I would certainly feel betrayed if I had voted for the Liberal Democrats based on support for a policy that was later exchanged for a Tory policy. And the same goes for Conservative voters too.

I wonder, since the precedent this has set, how anyone will be able to take any party's manifesto at face value- and this is one of the things that makes me uneasy about PR and the prospect of eternal coalition. No party will make it clear to voters which policies are to be sold off in exchange for a role in government- so how can we vote based on policy? We'll have to rely on the feel of the party- how nice a person the candidates come across on the telly. If we vote in droves to support specific policies, it is always going to be a lottery whether they are implemented or not.

The Liberal Democrats may be in a stronger position at the election because of this coalition, we'll have to see, but British democracy is left a lot less meaningful.

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