The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

This is the most interesting political situation of my lifetime.

Three parties, the most popular of which took little more than a third of the popular vote, unable to form a government.

Even though our broken voting system would have delivered a parliamentary majority to Labour on the basis of that result, it has failed the Tories.  But the Tories have barely improved on their previous showing and their claim to have won a moral right to govern is overcooked.  You can’t support first past the post, fail to get a majority and claim anything.

Labour meanwhile had clearly lost public support since the 2005 poll.  Many senior Labour figures fear that failing to relinquish power at this point will result in boundless hatred for the party at a time when any government will be faced with thankless decisions about the economy and the budget deficit.  The party probably does need a spell in opposition, but equally that may seem to some like their deserting the field when their supporters need them most.

As for the Lib Dems they have only increased their vote marginally from 21 to 23%, hardly the most unequivocal demonstration of public support.

If you add the vote for smaller parties (12%) to that of the Lib Dems you get a similar proportion to that won by the Tories (35% for the Lib Dems and Others, 36% for the Tories) however the former total 84 seats to the Tories 306.  Is it any wonder that people are fed up with a system brought in back in the 1870s for a two party system and buckling under the strain of a political reality where there are three large national parties, half a dozen regional groups and three or four smaller nationwide parties.

If the Lib Dems deal with the Tories they ignore the fact that many of their voters backed the Lib Dems to keep the Tories out.  If they back Labour they prop up a party that has seen its share of the vote drop by 20%, has been in power for 13 years, has taken us into 2 wars and despite ostensibly being a party of social justice has presided over the rapid growth of a super rich class while social disparity has increased markedly.

In short there is no right answer.  The Lib Dems are damned if they do one and damned if they do the other.  The only route open to them to excuse making a pact either with the devil or the deep blue sea is to insist on fair votes; a properly proportional system, so that whatever ugly compromise is forced upon them they will at least have the legacy of having reformed our democracy.

If they fail to do that then the Liberal Democrats will have comprehensively betrayed their supporters and squandered the best chance for a generation to revitalise our body politic.  Whether in that instance they would survive as a coherent force to fight another election is an open question.

Our democracy is under threat as never before.  Our right to vote and vest power in people of our choosing was paid for by our forebears in blood.  Their legacy is dying of neglect while unaccountable commercial interests move in to the space once occupied by government.

Nick Clegg can take his place alongside some of the great democrats of British history or he can become the Gollum of our age – corrupted by power and rendered unrecognisable to those who once saw something good in him.

It’s a hell of a dilemma.


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