Clegg’s dilemma

The United Kingdom has a hung Parliament. The 2010 general election left the Conservatives as the largest party however they are 20 seats short of an overall majority. Therefore a coalition Government must be arranged.

The prospect of a government of national unity* – a coalition including both the Conservatives and Labour – is conspicuous by its absence. Instead both parties are courting the support of the third force in British politics – the Liberal Democrats – to make up the numbers they need to govern.

The situation has given the Lib Dems a rare opportunity to influence Government policy directly. Top of the Liberals’ wish-list is electoral reform – changing the first-past-the-post voting system to some kind of proportional representation. Unfortunately none of the options on the table offer them a realistic prospect of achieving this.

The Tories are opposed to electoral reform, as the current system favours them (disproportionately), while Labour’s death-bed conversion to the cause lacks both conviction and the requisite mandate to see it through. A Lib/Lab alliance would still fall short of a commons majority so it would require the support of a hodge-podge of minority-party MPs in order to get anything done. Such a rainbow coalition would be unlikely to provide stable government in the national interest, would exclude from government the party with the biggest share of the vote, and might disagree with itself so violently on other matters that it could even collapse before it managed to get anything done.

The Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, has become the first for generations to catch a whiff of government yet he has been presented with an agonising dilemma: to share power with the Conservatives he would have to abandon the most cherished ambition of his party and set aside the reason he says he went into politics in the first place.

Much depends on the detail of the power-sharing offer being made by the Tories however, when it comes down to it, Clegg will have to decide whether he thinks working with the Tories or against them serves the Liberal agenda best. In other words, will he choose to join a Conservative-led Government and fight within it for that in which Liberals believe, or will he choose to sit opposite a minority Tory administration and fight against that in which they do not?

On that point I think my previous advice applies.

But oh! The irony…

* With Cameron as Prime Minister, Brown as Chancellor and Clegg as Home Secretary, what could possibly go wrong?

6 thoughts on “Clegg’s dilemma

  1. In personal irony news, a Tory/Liberal coalition would scrap ID cards but would be unlikely to reform the electoral system, while a Lib/Lab alliance would reform our broken political system but would be unlikely to dismantle the database state…

  2. It looks like so far the only solid ground under any coalition is dealing with economic and budgetary problems. Anything else is probably too contentious to make it through the next parliament.

    So, odds-on for emergency budget, then seeing how long things carry on until the Conservatives start trying to score points with a view to a new Election.

  3. It seems to me that Clegg has to make a deal with the Tories, even if it has only the weakest promisses of electoral reform. If he can’t show that he can work with them now, then what are all Tory/Lib Dem floaters to think? The only conclusion they could draw would be “if the Lib Dems get their electoral reform, then it’s perpetual Lib Dem / Labour coalitions in the future” He has to show that Labour are not a shoe in for power forever or he jeopardizes people voting for PR or similar in the future.

    Best bet would be to arrange a year or two’s worth of legislation that includes other Lib Dem key issues like civil liberties, allow the Tories to put through a watered down version of their economic platform and get a firm commitment from Cameron not do anything stupid in Europe.

    I think the two parties manifestos are too far apart just now to find a full 5 year legislative program, but if they announced it up front as having a time limit, they could go back to the polls in, say, 2 years having demonstrated functional coalition government, fended off the economic crisis (one hopes) and could then ask people “wouldn’t you like more of this?” without looking like they’ve kicked the chair out from under the Government for opportunistic, election reasons or because coalition is “unstable”.

    Yay for armchair quarterbacks 🙂 If it were really up to me I’d just be all, sure Dave, I’d love a ministerial Jag. Whatever you say.

  4. In other news, your form validation is incredibly user hostile. It doesn’t tell you email is required up front and then shouts at you from a blank page when you submit. No back button, no indication that my words of wisdom have been preserved.

  5. Gareth: point taken about the comment form. It’s not my theme and I’m no WordPress wizard however I’ll see if I can hack together some improvements.

    I agree with you both on the politics of the situation. A Tory/Lib-Dem coalition is the obvious choice given the result of the election. I think Clegg knows this however he’s having a hard time getting his party to accept it in the absence of a deal on electoral reform.

    I understand why this is. The Liberal Democrats perceives this as a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get proportional representation. Once this is in place they believe they will be a stronger political force and can then push through their other policies. However I don’t believe there is currently any mandate to achieve meaningful electoral reform, and if Clegg intends to die in a ditch over this one issue, then he and his party risk dying in vain.

    If the Tories don’t support proportional representation but are offering concessions on everything else in which the Liberal Democrats believe – taxation, education, economy, civil liberties – then Clegg should abandon the idea of meaningful electoral reform for another day, accept the Conservatives’ offer, get large chunks of his manifesto implemented and live to fight another election.

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