Monday 17 May 2010

The Great Betrayal?

Having spent last week on a walking holiday with French friends in the Isle of Wight I have missed the blow by blow accounts of political developments in what has probably been the most exciting political week of my adult life. " La loi de l'emmerdement maximum," as the French would so graphically put it.

On one thing I should like further and better particulars: who scuppered the possibility of a "progressive alliance" between Liberal Democrats, Labour and other moderately left-wing parties? Was it the Liberal Democrats, who, Labour claim, were really only interested in a deal with the Tories, and used the rather feeble excuse that the "body language" of the Labour negotiating team was all wrong. Or was it Labour, whose "Neanderthal tendency," to quote Polly Toynbee "emerged roaring opposition" as "David Blunkett, John Reid, Jack Straw, Diane Abbott...reminded the world how backward , how unrogressive, tribal and sectarian much of the People's Party still is."(Guardian 12/05/10)

Although this detail will be of interest only to we political anoraks, I look forward to a definitive account of these negotiations. Until such is produced, for my own self respect I shall choose to believe the Toynbee version, for which there is a good deal of historical precedent. For almost half a century local government elections have frequently produced balanced councils. In such circumstances the Liberal/Liberal democrat custom has been to offer to work with all other parties in an all-party administration. Labour council groups have more often that not refused, thus forcing Conservative/Liberal administrations. Like some small boys, Labour will only play the game when it conforms to their rules. When it doesn't they take their bat home.

Perhaps the truth is that there was no betrayal, as parliamentary arithmetic made a "Rainbow Coalition" unviable. I believe it was Blunkettt who pointed out that, on average four MPs die every year. Thus any progressive alliance would have been fighting for its life in by-elections every three months.


  1. The problem with this argument is that it makes the assumption that only Liberal Democrats are whiter than white (as do Labour and Tories) in their dealings with other parties. When Don Foster's Lib Dems made an alliance with the Tories for political convenience in Bristol some years back there were many Lib Dem activists in surrounding authorities who found the action totally beyond the pale. In any case for every Libcon (and never was there a more apposite conjunction of abbreviations)council one may find other examples of disasterous collaboration. But just as one cannot move from the specific to the general one cannot move from the local to the national.

    I understand the need for a third party to find a way of influencing policy. I find it very difficult to comprehend how a party can enter into an agreement at national level with a party so diametrically opposed to its own fundamental beliefs.

    I cannot think for one moment that anything like a third of those people voting Lib Dem at the 2010 election believed they were actually voting to put the Tories back into goverment.

    So when the leaders of the the present government suggest that they represent over 60% of the electorate it is a gross distortion. The present goverment represents the ten and a half million Tory votes plus that of the 51 liberal democrat MPs.

    This is the act of betrayal. The betrayal of a high proportion of the six and a half million voters who put their X against a Lib Dem believing that they were voting for a progressive, radical and democratic candidate. Not beleiving for one moment that they were actually voting to put a reactionary and elitist Tory government in power.

    It is the grimy old politics of David Lloyd George all over again when a so called Liberal became the Prime Minister of a Tory government.

    Those people who voted for Lib Dem policies in 2010 beleiving them to be both radical and progressive will not forget and sadly, for those present Lib Dem MPs, they will not forget.

  2. This is my second attempt to respond to your comment. The first has not printed: I must have pressed a wrong button.

    First, thanks John for your contribution to what I am sure will be a long debate in both the Liberal Democrat and Labour parties.

    My initial reaction to the coalition with the Tories was much the same as yours (and I enjoyed your letter in the Guardian, and the uncut version in your blog.) However, I think we have to face the fact that as long as there are balanced parliaments (and I like to think that from now on that will be the rule rather than the exception) then coalitions will be determined as much be the parliamentary arithmetic as by the principles of the parties. The electorate deals the cards and we have to play the hand we are given.

    I agree that probably most Liberal Democrat voters (though not all: some would be voting tactically against Labour) and certainly most LD activists would have preferred a progressive coalition. Unfortunately this was not viable so we had to take the second best option. As long as we are the smallest of the three dominant parties we shall have to choose between moderating the statist inclinations of Labour or "devil take the hindermost" proclivities of the Tories. Even when, as I earnestly hope, we become the larges of the three, we shall still have to choose which of them to get into bed with unless and until we have an over-all majority.

  3. Trouble with John Wilkes' argument is that it excludes any coalition with Cons. Ever. So we sit around until we get a majy LD govt. A long wait. Or until Lab give us what we want.If that's the case you may as well join Lab now.

    On policy (as opposed to record)all 3 parties are v close together on economy, health, educn, immigration, transport.

    If people were so afraid of Cameron they could vote Lab. Many of them did.

    Lab had a cheek even to fight the election at all with their record on the economy and under the arrogant "It's not my fault" Brown.

    Real surprise is that so many people voted LD and risked Brown surviving. Those who did vote LD knew
    that coalition was the best they could hope for. I categorise myself as a Left-leaning LD. But I would not have Brown at any price. And any propsect of a deal was sabotaged by tribalists such as John Reid and David Blunkett.