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Monday, May 10, 2010 

The woman in a political sandwich.

It really is close to impossible not to reduce the continuing "discussions" between both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives and now the Liberal Democrats and Labour to that of two suitors fighting over the same person, so let's not even try. If we deign to portray the Lib Dems as the woman in this potential political sandwich, quite what she would see in the two desperate men for her hand is just as difficult: there's the strutting, not quite as cocksure as he might have been Conservatives, convinced of his suitability and endorsed by the public, but who has different qualities and general interests to the lady he still finds himself attracted to, and whose motives are deeply suspect; or there's Labour, who she has far more in common with, but who by comparison is far from his prime, and who has a recent past which would turn off someone who had more of a choice. This isn't to consider just whether the men themselves might yet have second thoughts, especially after behaviour which some have already called "two-timing" or "betrayal"...

Quite whether Nick Clegg used the same sort of techniques and tactics in his alleged 30 conquests as he has over the last couple of days is also impossible to know, but it's undeniable that he's played his hand as well. Not only he has succeeded in apparently getting the Conservatives to compromise both on a referendum on the Alternative Vote and on his raising of the income tax threshold to £10,000, but he's also managed to get the leader of one of the parties to resign as the very first concession on negotiations. Admittedly, Gordon Brown was going to have to relinquish his position at some point, but to do so in the "national interest" and so dramatically is one of those moments to be remembered in the years to come. I've never properly understood the loathing of Gordon Brown by some (maybe, to descend into uncomfortable honesty for a second, because I look at him and at least see something of myself) but get the feeling that he's more likely to resemble the John Major model of former prime ministers than that of the Thatchers and Blairs.

There is however something distinctly odd about all the manoeuvring going on, both because we're not used to political parties even considering working together, and also because it goes so directly against their better nature. Our political system has for so long encouraged mutual antagonism, the massive exaggeration of what have often been small differences between the parties that it's startling just how quickly all of that can be discarded when the possibility of pure, naked power is there to be grabbed. For let's not kid ourselves, this is the real reason why all three parties are finding their manifestos so malleable. Gordon Brown's sacrifice is then so that his party can potentially continue to govern; his personal motive may have been noble, but the overall one is not quite as unselfish.

As the deals on offer go, it really should be a no-brainer for the Liberal Democrats just on the issue of political reform itself: AV without a referendum from Labour, a referendum on actual proportional representation later, as opposed to just a referendum on AV from the Tories who would almost certainly oppose it in their own constituencies if not in the Commons itself. We can't though pretend that this is just about voting reform: a Labour-Liberal Democrat pact simply isn't realistic if you do even the slightest thinking about it, and a look at the Tory newspapers tomorrow will quickly reinforce that. Already the Mail and Telegraph are in full cry about coups and black days for democracy, as if the voters themselves, despite their cries, didn't in some way endorse a hung parliament. As John Reid has already elucidated, relying on the nationalists in both Wales and Scotland as both parties would to get an overall majority is a recipe for instability: both will demand to be somewhat protected from the cuts to come, further inflicting them on an England which overwhelming voted for the Conservatives. The ravages of Thatcherism and the party's penchant for testing their policies on that country first has left Scotland a wasteland for the Conservatives; Labour would face exactly the same in England, something it cannot afford to do.

The Liberal Democrats face a far worse dilemma. This could be both their greatest opportunity and their potential undoing. If they do go in for a coalition with the Tories, and they've rightly rejected the 2-year offer which Cameron initially made, which was clearly designed to leave them out to dry, and even assuming that the referendum on AV goes their way, not even close to being certain, then they're going to share the blame with the Conservatives for the savage cuts coming our way. Indeed, they've apparently given way on the cuts starting this year, against the advice of those noted lefties at the International Monetary Fund, not to mention the sainted Vince the Cable. AV might well mean not losing as many seats as they would have done should both parties find themselves forming only a one-term government, yet is such slight reform worth it to be thrown out along with the Tories, potentially for another generation?

The far better option, at least from my hardly towering vantage point, would be for them to reject both parties and let the Conservatives govern with a minority, support them on uncontroversial votes, abstain on the Queen's speech, and only vote against them on their worst excesses. This government will, in the words of Mervyn King, potentially find itself outside of power for decades, such will be the unpleasantness to come. Labour if it has any sense will spend the next five years rebuilding under its new leader, and it's already starting the process at grassroot level as shown by its performance in the local elections. It might well find itself cleaning up in 5 years' time, or even sooner. All depends now on just how much lust Clegg and his MPs have for real power, and on that score you should never rule anything in or out.

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You and your lot on the left are totally divorced from reality. Why I ever read your drivel lord only knows.

One thing history has taught is that the Conservatives after every Labour government has had to clean up an awful economic mess left by them. This time round it is not just awful it is disastrous and maybe irreparable.

So your assertion that it will be the other way round is disingenuous to say the least.

That you compare yourself with Brown tells me a lot about you and my thoughts about your character would not be at all flattering.

I would very much like to see a continuance of Labour in government so that their corruption and incompetence can be laid bare for all to see. The problem with that is those who do not want Labour or subscribe to their policies are going to have to suffer as much as those who do through no fault of their own.

What's all this about relying on the Nationalists? The SDLP take the Labour whip, Sylvia Hermon will vote with Labour and the Alliance Party NI are allied to the Lib Dems. The starting point is 320 votes, not 315 - and out of 323 (remember the five SF abstentionists), not 326. Three votes to find, out of three Plaid Cymru, six SNP, eight DUP and one Green - how hard can that be? To put it the other way round, to beat that basic bloc of 320 votes Cameron would need to find 15 votes out of (see above) - which, considering that those parties all hate the Tories, would be quite a trick.

I don't know what Blunkett and Reid, in particular, are playing at. The time for defeatism is when you've actually been defeated.

Antisthenes: I think you've misinterpreted what I meant by "cleaning up"; I meant in the electoral sense, not in cleaning up any political mess left by the Tories. In any case, the Tories would be in much the same financial situation if they'd won in 05, as they would have almost certainly have bailed out the banks very similarly to Labour, regardless of their opposition or not from the opposite benches.

In one sense it would be justice to see Labour clean up a mess of its own making, but clearly the voters have rejected that, and would similarly reject a Lib-Lab coalition. The Tories however are not just intending to clean up Labour's mess; they want to impose cuts for their own sake, as the Institute for Fiscal Studies' detailed look at their plans showed. The biggest cuts since the second world war? If we're going by history, you'll also note that the voters have not always been grateful for the previous government's successes, and the idea they're going to vote for the Tories again (and the Liberal Democrats if the deal goes through) after such pain is doubtful at best. Unfair perhaps, but that's the reality I seem to be divorced from.

Phil: That's all true, but you've also taken for granted that the ministers in such a government are always going to be there to support it in crucial votes when they simply won't, and it also takes no account of sickness, abstentions, rebellions as there are always going to be and a Conservative opposition determined to bring such a coalition down at the first possible attempt. It simply wouldn't last, and I think thankfully they've realised it isn't possible.

Fair comment, the public is not going to be grateful to the Tories and now it looks like in partnership with the Lib-Dems for sorting out the financial mess the country now finds itself in so both parties are going to suffer at the next election.

And so the cycle is going start all over again. Progressives good intentions marred by impractical polices. I have no argument with left wing ideals just with the methods of achieving them. The great myth propagated by the left is that us on the right are evil and wish to keep the masses underfoot and downtrodden for ever. Certainly there are some that do just as some on the left have Stalinist tendencies.

The truth of the matter sensible honest people of right and left have everything in common on what we wish to achieve but as have I have said the great difference is how we achieve those aims.

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