11 May, 2010

A Little Bit of Politics

I'm not a political animal. I'm interested in politics and I have my own political preference, but like many, I'm reluctant to get too involved, because I've seen too many people get eaten up by frustration and disappointment. Better to stand on the sidelines and offer a critique on the passing parade. So, I'm writing this more as a bookmark, to put together some thoughts this evening.

For the Labour Party to win a third term in office was a historic moment for British politics. The likelihood of them securing a fourth term in 2010 was unlikely at best. More, a Conservative win was pretty much inevitable. But a majority win was not.

Even before the election was announced, most statisticians would have reminded us that massive swings tend not to go beyond about 4%. All of those polls predicting 20-point leads for David Cameron, frankly, might as well have been held in Narnia for their resemblance to reality. If the best the Conservatives could hope for was a 4% swing, the very best they could have hoped for was a hung parliament.

This is what the Liberal Democrats knew, and they knew that whoever secured the bigger share of seats, the centre party would have the casting decision in whether or not they got to govern or not.

We can ignore all of those Tories bleating about Brown not having a moral right to govern in these last few days. He every right to govern, as set out in the constitution. Cameron did not, however, have a right to demand to be given the first opportunity to set in motion a coalition.

Opposition tends not to win elections - the sitting government tends to lose them, and inheriting the damage caused by the Iraq war and the global recession, it was unlikely that Labour's successes in looking after our pensioners would win them many votes. As (of all people) Lembit Opik pointed out today, the Conservatives didn't win this election. In an 800-metre dash, they fell at 700 metres; they got further along than everyone else, but didn't complete the course. it could be argued that many of the new votes they attracted this time were the result of negative voting - people who've had enough of Brown and want to see the back of him, rather than positively voting for Cameron. Likewise, most people in this election voted for someone other than the Conservatives, and many of those votes would have been a negative vote away from the Conservatives rather than specifically a vote for Labour or the Lib Dems.

The Conservatives need to remain humble here. They didn't receive a vote of confidence from the public and they'll need to negotiate at every turn. If they don't, they'll lose the ability to govern at all. Similarly, the Liberal Democrats have secured their greatest opportunity to govern since 1918. I hope they don't waste it by punching above their weight or not picking their battles wisely.

As a Labour voter, obviously I believe Labour are better for people like me and my family. I'm not blind to their faults - I still believe tuition fees to be a betrayal of their core values. But I know many people cannot get past the Iraq issue and it's meaningless to try to debate that, because minds are closed and set, and nothing I might say can open them. The Conservatives also supported the move to war - their track record in both the Falklands and the first Gulf War meant they couldn't very well not support it. At the time, the Lib Dems opposed it, but then it's easy having principals when you'll never have to make the decision yourselves. Now though, they might.

Many people have attacked Nick Clegg for considering an alliance with the Conservatives. Politics isn't about only working with your friends. You have to be able to work with your enemies too.

Believe it or not, I think Clegg's being very brave here. If the Tories are as bad as some of us suspect them of being, with any luck, they'll be restrained to some extent by their their new allies. If they get out of hand, the Lib Dems can pull their support at any point. Whoever's in power, they've got some tough choices to face. Had they won a majority, I suspect we'd have been in a terrifying position as the Tories could have been insufferable and spiteful, as they were post-1979 (if that's not your view of that time, you probably didn't live in Liverpool, Glasgow, Newcastle or any of the mining communities which, for some people, felt like they were being targeted for their opposition to the Tories in the mid-1970s). Now, we might be able to benefit from Conservative economics tempered by liberalism. It's not what I voted for, just as I'm sure it's not what Conservative or Lib Dem voters wanted either. It's what we've got, though, and I'm just hoping that with so many people awakened to politics this year, perhaps this coalition will create a new generation of activists, which should be a good thing.

One thing that I've loved from today though is the generally good natured banter on BBC News. While Sky reveal their true colours with pit-bull after pit-pull losing their cool and revealing their political bias, the BBC approach has been respectful, honest about the confusion and genuinely entertaining. One German journalist was asked how his home country had coped with their own coalition, which had taken 40 days to arrange. Was it, he was asked, a time of panic for Germany? 'No,' he laughed. 'As in your country, Germany's really run by the Civil Service. It made no difference at all.'

- Brown's final speech as PM

- Cameron's first speech as PM

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