Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Will the AV campaign herald a severe bout of Lib Dem wistfulness?

Although on the face of it the most dramatic moment in Ed Miliband's speech was his comment on Iraq, and more particularly the bizarre exchange it triggered between David Miliband and Harriet Harman, perhaps of much longer-term significance was the almost throwaway confirmation that the new Labour leader would be supporting a Yes vote in the forthcoming AV referendum. There had been a growing sense that the battle for this very minor reform of the voting system was on the way to being lost, but to some extent that was based on the assumption that Labour were happy to sabotage the campaign now that they were no longer directing it. The prospect of a Yes campaign encompassing both the Liberal Democrats and a fresh Labour leader who may very well still be enjoying a political honeymoon perhaps tilts the probabilities back to a positive outcome.

All the same, the more thoughtful Liberal Democrats will surely be reflecting tonight on their party's short-sightedness back in May. One of the main excuses for refusing to seriously investigate a progressive alternative to a Tory-led coalition was that it was unthinkable to countenance allowing Gordon Brown to remain in office, even for a brief period. That might have seemed to make sense in the feverish atmosphere of the moment - but the perspective changes considerably now that we've reached the point by which Brown would already have been gone. For the avoidance of four short months of discomfort, the Liberal Democrats now face the prospect of having to endure four-and-a-half more years of coalition with a party that the majority of members will increasingly regard as very obviously the 'wrong' partner. To say that the ad hoc alliance between Clegg and Miliband to push for modest electoral reform is likely to make the Lib Dem rank-and-file feel a touch wistful is something of an understatement.

Marriages are often blown apart by a yearning for the greener grass on the other side - could the same thing happen to the Lib Dems and Tories over the next two or three years? Intriguingly, Ed Miliband himself doesn't seem to think so, with indications that he's digging in for the full five year long-haul. He may of course be right, but it's far from a certainty.


  1. Ed Miliband may be a breath of fresh air or he may just be cynically manipulating us all by trying to drag sheep's clothing round the Labour Party. Time will tell.

    What is for sure is that given the number of the old guard whose faces were like fizz yesterday while he was doing his mea culpas and pretending the party was really liberal (which it has never been), the new leader's ride is not going to be easy.

    And then you have the issue that he may be good but he can't magic up a couple of dozen Labour MPs to build a properly stable government.

    I feel equally anxious about Labour and Conservatives.

  2. I hardly think a Lib Dem can go on about wolves in sheep’s clothes. Hasn’t your party just been swallowed whole by the biggest and baddest wolf around? Running headlong into an AV referendum having haemorrhaged more than half of your support and making no ground electorally on the Labour Part is hardly conducive for your own party’s old guards faces not to be like fizz, starting with Saint Vince.

    Ah the Jenkins Commission, it always brings a smile to my face. Remember what that Lib Dem grandee said about AV? No: How convenient! Another item of apparel discarded!

  3. Caron, there was of course a 'third way' back in May, which I believe was advanced by Charles Kennedy - the Lib Dems could have allowed the Tories to form a minority government. That would have allowed you the freedom to withdraw support if the point was ever reached at which the Tories became extremely unpopular and it became clear there was public appetite for an election to remove them from office (or perhaps even for a progressive alliance to take over without an election). I just cannot see what the Lib Dems have got out of the coalition that is so fantastic that it was worth lumbering us with the Tories for five years.

    I also don't understand the argument that it would have damaged the party's credibility if the offer of the coalition had been turned down. Support for PR or for the general principle of coalition doesn't have to mean support for absolutely any chance of a coalition that happens to come along. In continental countries with PR, there are many mainstream parties that are very reluctant to work with each other because of the ideological or policy mismatch.