Wednesday, 14 July 2010
Party Political Paradox
Some former Labour minister trying to play mischief by highlighting the divisions that persevere through the fragile coaltion agreement? Wrong. How about one of the right wing rags that bayed for Cameron’s blood even before the coalition and now see the coalition as a betrayal of conservative values? Nope, not that either.
It is however Paddy Ashdown, the de facto ‘conscience’ of the Liberal Democrats and for all intents and purposes, political sensei of the 57 MP’s and countless bearded, sandle-wearing members of the ‘other party’, not so long ago regarded as joke and now a ‘respected’ party of government. But Paddy Ashdown, it must be said, had acquirred the political foresight normally only afforded by the print press to economic ‘guru’ Vince Cable, he who predicted the global recession, America’s inevitable decline and probably Britain finishing last in Eurovision (though the latter prediction should ensure I become Chief Secretary to the Treasury or at least the coveted Duchy of Lancaster).
But Ashdown was, and is, right. A Hung Parliament and subsequently the coalition produces the ultimate paradox for the Lib Dems. As soon as they get their hands close to power in the immediate term, the long term prospect for the Lib Dems (which must be to eventually replace the Labour Party as the party of the centre left) slip away, like a human hand trying to catch a naked flame, or any middle aged male trying to keep control of those rubber, water snake toys available from all reputable gift shops west of Norwich. To reject power would condemn Lib Dems to ridicule for a political eternity (two decades?) as a merely a pressure group, not mature enough to take decisions and bare the consequences. Any hope of PR would be crushed by the lib dems inability to form a coalition, something necessary in all elections with a PR system. But to hop into bed with the Tories? The party of privelege, s.28, Norman Tebbit and Phil Collins? Unthinkable. And it gives the Labour Party possily unlimited ammunition for their PEB’s for next five years, “Vote Clegg, Get Cameron”. The echoing, war-drumming of this mantra will be almost impossible to surmont and will ensure a very good proportion of the ‘pissed off’ centre-left will make the spiritual journey back to Labour.
Is there anyway the Lib Dems can make this work for them? The Lib Dem need to carve out a separate identity seems to be the only hope for them. But as always, the Lib Dems need to satisfy all of the people all of the time and have it all their way. Soon to be crowned deputy leader Simon Hughes idea of shadowing the Goverment stil highlights the Lib Dems inability to take responsibility for their actions. They cannot be in government and opposition at the same time. The even more ludicrous fudge over nuclear power (no public money being used to help build but private money should be used) will likely result in lax enviromental standards with no accountability to the public, again just to satisfy the lib dems inability to take tough decisions. Changing your whole economic policy (cutting this year) is an easy step to make but obviously public money for nuclear power is just a step too far.
And if the Lib Dems think their policy of abstaining on difficult decision like increasing top up fees will stop them alienating their supporters then they, not Ed Milliband, must be the ellusive ‘Emissary from the Planet F*ck’. The policy of ‘abstain for change’ really doesn’t sound as catchy as vote for change? In addition to the fact that all senior Lib Dems signed an NUS pledge to vote against ANY proposal to increase top up fees.
The emergence of the third party as a party of Government does grant the lib dems the allure of ministerial office, and all the privelege that goes with it. But is the real paradox, that at the moment the two party system seemed destined to be dismantled, the third party’s inability to take responsibility, will prolong the endurance of the duopoly of British Politics? Well take at look at them noooow…..