Skip to main content

Democracy is being poisoned and we may have to wait for the antidote

The latest polling shows that Nick Clegg and David Cameron are enjoying a honeymoon period. There’s been a lot of commentary about their excruciating ‘civil partnership’ ceremony which took place earlier in the week. In reality, the analogy is grossly insulting to any couple in a genuine, long-term relationship, as it’s clear that Nick and Dave picked each other up casually on the rebound. It’s not so much a marriage. More a status change on Facebook from ‘single’ to ‘in a relationship’. I have no doubt whatsoever that the coalition will end with an extremely messy divorce. The question is not if it will fall apart, but when.

Dave and Nick (described lovingly as Dick in one of the Sunday papers) are conducting their love affair in the centre ground of British politics and have much in common with one another – not least their elitist background, which includes leading public schools and Oxbridge. It’s actually not surprising that they are able to deal with one another, as they are both in their social comfort zone and neither has any clear ideological standpoint. Each is a pragmatic opportunist. The problem is that their respective parties are filled with people for whom pragmatism is anathema. These are the tree-hugging, pavement-pounding, anti-nuclear lefties of the Liberal Democrat Party and the authoritarian right-wingers in the Conservative Party who are bemused by their leader’s conversion to gay rights, ecology and hoodie-hugging. If you put these factions in a room together, there would be a blood bath, but their parties are now joined at the hip as they parade around the Westminster tearooms.

Some commentators have suggested that Blair dragged Labour into the centre and faced down opposition from his unreconstructed left wing. Surely, they argue, Cameron and Clegg are merely doing the same kind of thing? This superficially plausible argument ignores two points. The first is that the left of the Labour Party had already been fatally weakened by Kinnock and Blair in opposition before the party took power. The left-wing of the Lib Dems and the right-wing of the Tories are very much alive and capable of giving their leaders a kicking. The second point is that we are no longer dealing with one power axis, but two. We have twice the opportunity for division and revolt.

Vince Cable – the Con-Dem Business Secretary – is a decent enough guy. He’s my constituency MP and has helped me out on a couple of occasions. I was very struck by his ability to grasp the detail of some messy and complex problems I talked through with him. You could see how he became the chief economist at oil giant, Shell. There’s a big brain in there.

According to news reports, Vince was desperate to do a deal with Labour rather than the Tories and was on the phone to Gordon Brown in the days before the shameful agreement with Cameron. How far do Vince’s ‘progressive’ principles extend, however? Not far enough that he is prepared to draw a line in the sand. Not far enough to stand up to the vacuous nonsense spouted by his leader about ‘stable government’. No, the prospect of ministerial office was on offer and Cable took it, recognising no doubt that at 67, he was drinking in the last-chance parliamentary saloon. The price he pays is having to swallow hook, line and sinker any rubbish spouted by Chancellor George Osborne, to whom the cerebral Cable must now defer. With the trappings of power comes the humiliation of having to agreeing to the younger man’s claptrap. It can only last so long.

By bringing in the left-leaning intellectual Will Hutton to look at public sector pay and the maverick Labour MP Frank Field to tackle ‘poverty’ (ie slash welfare), Cameron’s big tent is starting to bulge with the biggest bunch of misfits, has-beens, losers and no-hopers that the British political establishment has ever managed to cram onto a campsite.

The huge lie at the heart of the Con-Dem government is that it represents some new kind of politics. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is the ultimate example of a ruling elite coming together to appoint friends and close political neighbours in a stitch-up that ignores the will of the voters entirely. Liberal Democrats around the country stole the support of Labour electors by promising that they were an anti-Tory party. Vince Cable has exploited this tactic endlessly in his south-west London constituency which he’s held since 1997. In the neighbouring seat of Kingston & Surbiton, Ed Davey squeezed my vote relentlessly in 2001 with the same argument. Today, the tactical voting bandwagon is exposed as a fraud. Far from being the anti-Tory party, the Lib Dems are revealed as being pro-Tory. If this information had been known prior to the 2010 election, how do you think it might have affected the way that people would vote?

The Liberal Democrats are shown to be shameless hypocrites and opportunists and they, in my opinion, will be the biggest long-term losers from this election. They claim to represent a new politics, but now believe in forming coalitions with opponents they denounced in the election. They rightly criticise our current voting system, which renders many people’s votes meaningless. But they have used it to do a deal which renders everyone’s votes meaningless.

The end result is completely poisonous for British politics and will almost certainly lead to greater disaffection – particularly among younger people who hope for change. The new way of doing things turns out to be the same old way of doing things. And I, for one, haven’t felt this politically motivated in 20 years.

Comments

  1. Rather than changing his Facebook status to 'In a relationship' I suspect he would opt for the 'it's complicated' status.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

I was sad when I quit Labour a year ago. Now, I feel a sense of relief.

What motivates decent people to stay as members of the Labour Party?
It’s a question I’ve been pondering intensely over the past year, which I’ve spent in self-imposed exile. I resigned the moment Jeremy Corbyn was re-elected as leader after the contest with Owen Smith.
When I quit, it was with a very heavy heart.
As far back as the late 1980s, I’d served as Labour General Secretary of the London NUS. By the early 90s, I was chairing Frank Dobson’s constituency party in inner London. On two occasions, I stood as a Labour parliamentary candidate.
If you make that kind of commitment, you assume it’s a relationship that will last for life. And even though I hadn’t been an activist in recent years, it never occurred to me that I’d be forced to rip up my party card. 
Today, as Labour’s 2017 conference looms, I wonder how anyone with a moderate viewpoint can kid themselves the party is even worth rescuing.
One group of centre-ground survivors falls into the category of the bloody minded. Like …

What if the whole Corbyn project is based on a lie?

If there’s one thing that scares the Corbyn movement more than anything else, it’s the emergence of a new centre-ground party.
Supporters know very well that once it arrives, the alleged ‘popularity’ of Labour’s far-left leadership would be badly exposed – in just the same way that Michael Foot’s good poll ratings disintegrated with the emergence of the SDP in the early 1980s.
When people are given a choice, many will opt for moderation.
When they lack choice – a particularly stark problem in the UK’s indefensible first-past-the-post electoral system – they tend to polarise to left and right.
For supporters of today’s Labour leadership, it’s therefore critically important to dismiss the centre ground as something which no one wants any more. As a failed ‘neo-liberal’ project, which has no relevance to 2018.
But consider the facts.
A recent BMG Research poll for The Independent found that millions of voters currently find themselves without a political home.
Many feel that the main parties …

Why Momentum's victory in Haringey leaves Corbyn exposed

If you want to see what a Corbyn government might look like, keep an eye on Haringey. The north London borough is set to be taken over by the hard-left Momentum faction, after moderate Labour councillors were deselected in a bitter dispute over housing.
The respected and long-standing council leader, Claire Kober, has said that she won’t be contesting her seat again in May – probably forfeiting her own place on the council to another representative of the Corbyn fan club. She’s also effectively pulled the plug on her £2bn housing initiative – known as the Haringey Development Vehicle or HDV – by saying that the incoming administration can make the final decision on whether it proceeds.
Part of the pressure on Kober came from the extraordinary decision of Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee to weigh in on the issue. Thankfully, their intervention provoked a backlash from outraged councillors right around the country. Whatever they thought of the specific model for housing pr…