Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Campaign in majoritarian, govern in coalition

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Something keeps happening regarding the political discourse in this country since the election. Both the Conservatives and the Lib Dems keep being accused of having "broken" their pledges.

We saw it again yesterday. The compromises that were reached by both sides regarding the budget in the coalition government are described as "U-turns" or abandonment of pre-election pledges etc.

I saw Bob Russell, the Lib Dem MP being interviewed talking about how he had been elected on a platform that was in some ways quite different from what had been announced yesterday. I also heard a Tory MP on the radio bemoaning the fact that he had campaigned promising not to raise Capital Gains Tax.

The problem is that the way all the parties campaigned before the election was under the assumption that they would have an overall majority after the election. Yes, even the Lib Dems. The political dynamics that have evolved around the First Past the Post system essentially require each party to talk as if they will have all the power. In the last few decades that has actually not been an unreasonable position for either of the two main parties to take. However this year has of course now proved them wrong.

Perhaps we will see a change in the dynamics of the way the next general election campaign is fought. Perhaps the parties will talk more about what they will fight for and their specific priorities on these fronts than talking as if they will be able to decide everything without having to compromise. Then again maybe we won't. Old campaigning will likely die hard.

I have always been in favour of a more proportional system and therefore I actively welcome the sort of politics where compromise needs to be reached on issues as we are seeing now. Yesterday's budget would not have been the same if the Conservatives had had an overall majority. I do not think the income tax starting point would have been raised by anything like £1,000 nor do I think that Capital Gains Tax would have increased to 28% for higher earners. There are other areas too which have a distinctly Lib Dem flavour. However there is no denying that there are things in the budget that we would not have had were there a Lib Dem majority. That is not a "betrayal". It is a simple reflection of the fact that we did not get enough votes/seats to form that majority.

Also, those opposition politicians screaming "betrayal" at the Lib Dems should reflect on how unwilling their leadership was to engage in meaningful coalition talks and also how the electorate had dealt a hand that made such a route fragile at best.

There will have to be more compromise over the coming years. That's how coalition government works. Everyone needs to recognise this new reality.


dougf said...

The sooner the LibDems start understanding that this Coalition is not only the ONLY game in town but ,in fact, the BEST game in town, the better off they will be.
Stop apologizing for the arrangement and start lauding the situation. This Government has about 60% support. Why do you think that is? It is NOT an accident. This Government(and yes that includes the CUTTING part) is right in the political 'sweet spot'.

Stop fighting the war on Labour chosen territory. You don't need to defend your choices ---- You need to SELL your choices as a GOOD THING.

And you need to tell Mr.Russell in all seriousness that a vote against the Government's Budget when you ARE the Government, is in fact a hanging offense. No exceptions for the self-indulgent.
Either you are a serious Party or you are not. I was taken with with Mr.Hughes' statement of yesterday. THAT was a 'serious' statement from someone who, although opposed to some details, was understanding of his duty to the Party,The Government,and the Nation. I was impressed that he put aside his personal comfort zone in order to look at the BIG PICTURE.
LibDems have to start thinking B-I-G-G-E-R. They really do.

Anonymous said...

I agree with dougf's comment.
In fact, this is nothing short of a golden opportunity for the Lib Dems to show the country that they are capable of (jointly) governing in a responsible way. So far, they're doing OK at it.
If this coalition holds, and does well, I wonder whether the leaderships of both parties might explore the possibility of making their relationship more permanent. The 'Liberal Conservative Party', anyone...?