Sunday, May 09, 2010

No Winners, Only Losers - Election Reflections

So - three days on from the election - and the dust is still settling.

Ironically, it looks like I got what I wished for - sort of.  What I really wanted was an option on the ballot paper that said 'none of the above'.  And that's what we've got - so far.

All three major parties managed, unerringly, to lose this election.  And despite it being a very good election to lose, I'm not sure any of them meant to.

Labour obviously lost - votes, seats, credibility.  Although constitutionally still in charge, Brown is now Dead Man Walking - in his own party as much as in the country.

Lib Dems - incredibly - also lost ground.  After the initial flush of Cleggmania, the country looked a little more closely and decided they weren't that keen on what they saw.  And, most likely, they were squeezed in a number of seats where the best 'keep Brown/Cameron out' option was someone other than the Lib Dems.

So if Labs/Libs both lost, then the Tories must have won, surely?  Well, no, they didn't, did they.  Yes, largest share of the seats, largest share of the vote...but our current voting system is called 'first past the post' for a reason.  And - despite 13 years in opposition, up against the most unpopular, discredited, party and party leader for decades, in the midst of a massive recession and caught up in a deeply unpopular war - Cameron couldn't persuade the country to give him a clear mandate to govern.  And he certainly does not have the 'moral right' to govern that some commentators have ascribed to him - if you're not first past the post, then you're not the winner.

What will we eventually end up with?  Clearly some sort of short term coalition or looser alliance, with Clegg as kingmaker.  Firstly, and rightly, he is talking with Cameron to see if they can find some common ground.  Currently Cameron is playing hardball - a meaningless commitment to do a bit of thinking about PR, and an agreement to explore areas of common ground with the Lib Dems that they were already committed to - in short, Cameron is offering nothing to Clegg in the way of concession.  Cabinet seats are meaningless and worthless if they do not come with any associated executive power.

For Clegg to agree to work with the Tories on this basis would be absolute madness and surely would be unacceptable to his party and to the vast majority of Lib Dem voters.  This will probably be Clegg's one and only chance to get some meaningful progress made on electoral reform - and he won't get that from Cameron.

So - will Clegg end up propping up the Labour party?  I think he'd probably like to - negotiating from a clear position of weakness, Labour will offer far more in the way of concession, particularly on electoral reform.  It feels like Labour would sacrifice the chance of absolute power if they could introduce a form of PR that would guarantee, more than likely, an ongoing centre-left coalition that would force the Conservatives into the political wilderness for generations.

But, but... an agreement with Labour alone will still not provide a working majority.  And there's the rub.  The Scottish and Welsh nationalists would have to be accommodated as well - and how do regional parties fare in a proportional representation-based system?  Furthermore, to bring the nationalists along, financial concessions will have to be made to the regions that will squeeze England even more.  And the electorate will not like that.

And since the country, quite clearly, does not want Labour, Clegg will get no credit from the electorate for propping up the current government - with or without Brown at the helm.  But - big but - he just might get electoral reform.

Despite the advantages of a deal with Labour, I think Clegg has to do a deal with Cameron - for his own credibility and for that of his party.  But he won't get PR, and he'll lose massive support both within and without his party in the process.  The Lib Dems are not a party of the right (or even the centre-right) so it will be an uneasy and fractious alliance that will do the country no good at all.  Might it then be the best option for Labour?  To go quietly, lose Brown and bide their time while the Tories and Lib Dems tear each other apart trying to deal with an appalling economic situation, then come back in a year's time?

But if Cameron succeeds in getting a grip on the situation - or if events work to his advantage - he has the power to call the next election at a time of his choosing, and with a modicum of goodwill from the electorate, just might get a working majority this time next year.  At which point he drops Clegg like a stone and the Lib Dems are consigned to the wilderness.

Ultimately, Cameron HAS to get the Lib Dems on side - but without conceding an inch on PR.  If he can do that, then he might - just might - end up the winner.  But in the longer term the biggest loser - ironically - will be Nick Clegg.

1 comment:

Omnibusologist said...

Remarkably sound and sensible assessment. Are you sure you're a Toffee?