Something has been bugging me in the last few weeks. The narrative of this election campaign is still being played out in the media and by leading Tory and Labour politicians largely as a two horse race. A complex three dimensional picture is constantly being interpreted through a two dimensional filter.
Monday, 3 May 2010
The most stark manifestation of this is in all the "Vote Clegg, get Cameron" and "Vote Clegg, get Brown" stuff. Before I continue I should just say that what I am about to write in no way assumes what the election result will be (lest anyone accuse me of "arrogance"). I am also not trying to predict what may happen post-election either. I am just following through on the comments that the political opponents of the Lib Dems have made and trying to point out how blinkered some of the thinking is.
We have not had much experience of UK-wide coalition or minority governments in the last few decades. The political and media classes have happily settled into the mindset that it is either Labour or Tory. The Lib Dem surge of the last few weeks has thrown this cosy way of thinking into disarray. The reactions from the larger two parties and their media cheerleaders has been varied but often boils down to "Who do you want, Tory or Labour?" with the assumption that even if the Lib Dems do well (possibly even very well) they still cannot form a government on their own and therefore must only be perceived in terms of who they will support in government. And that that outcome would be no different from that larger party (in terms of seats) having an overall majority.
The Lib Dems have made it as clear as they possibly can what the party would do in the event of a balanced parliament. They would fight for their four key manifesto commitments. That is absolutely the correct response. It is also incidentally what the other two main parties will do too but they are rarely asked the question in similar terms to the Lib Dems.
This is vitally important and keeps being missed in the binary debate we continually see. This assumption that if the Lib Dems were to enter an agreement or coalition with one of the other two parties after the election, that that would be exactly the same as that party having its own overall majority takes no account of this fact.
So, if the Lib Dems were to enter coalition with the Conservatives, does anyone really think that Cameron would just be able to go ahead and implement his entire manifesto? Or that if a coalition with Labour were formed that the Lib Dems would allow the illiberal path that has been pursued by the current government to continue unabated?
Of course not. That is the whole point of coalition governments! They require compromises and for the parties to carry more people with them. I think would be a very good thing. It also seems looking at some recent opinion poll findings that the British public agree with more than half now saying that they are in favour of electoral reform to a more proportional system. Opponents of reform should take heed and also note the response that Liam Fox got on BBC's Question Time last week when he started trying to scaremonger about what might happen if no party got an overall majority. The audience jeered and booed him.
The public appear to be as sick of this binary bunkum as I am. I suspect that regardless of the outcome of the general election, in the next few years we will see an increasing public desire to crack open the ancient duopoly and allow the system to reflect the multifarious views of the electorate.