Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Clegg's imperfect choice was for long-term irrelevance

Via Liberal Democrat Voice, I came across this extraordinary defence of the party's conduct in government from Julian Glover in the Guardian -

"Riled, Lib Dems are making a poor job of defending themselves. They are embarrassed to speak confidently – not so much because of the deal they did, better than anyone guessed before the election, but because they never presented themselves as deal-makers. Instead, they presented themselves as tellers of fantastical truths, signing pledges on tuition fees the leadership never thought they’d need to return to. That was the worst of the Lib Dems: indulging an unworkable policy that amounted to an unaffordable middle-class subsidy dressed up as principle.

Some of the voters won over by such things are angry. Many have decided to support Labour instead. Fair enough: many Lib Dem voters – and many members too – were content with the perfection of irrelevance. Clegg, though, is dealing with the imperfection of power."

To translate roughly : if you're caught bang to rights breaking a straightforward and solemn election pledge, the immaturity lies not in the breach of trust, but in having made the pledge in the first place. Reading that, is it any wonder that the public are so cynical about the values of the political class?

As far as the Lib Dems' previous stance on tuition fees being 'unworkable' is concerned, it's only unworkable if you happen to be in coalition with a party that for ideological reasons could never make the tough choices that would make it workable. Moreover, it's a little too convenient to gloss over the crucial distinction here - a compromise on the pledge to abolish tuition fees within six years is the sort of thing the public could easily have accepted as reasonable in the forging of a coalition. But the bit of the pledge that was almost literally signed in blood - and thus should have been regarded as utterly sacred - was the promise to actively vote against any increase in the fees. Whether Glover cares to acknowledge it or not, that was scarcely undoable if the will (not to mention the integrity) had been there.

And what about 'irrelevance'? By signing up for the coalition without a referendum on even the weakest form of proportional representation, Clegg was consciously accepting the likelihood of continued irrelevance for his party in exchange for his own day in the sun. A majoritarian voting system delivered sixty-five years of single-party Labour or Tory rule until this current blip - that ought to give even the most myopic Lib Dems pause for thought about the long-term consequences of having settled for the prospect of another majoritarian voting system.

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