Saturday, 8 May 2010

The current scene

I've just sent most of this to balancedparliament at libdemvoice.org

To my surprise I find I'm less bothered about facilitating a Tory government than I thought I would be. I worked through the 80s and 90s when almost every day brought more examples of Tory viciousness and Tory sleaze, and we still see evidence day to day that many of the party grassroots haven't changed a bit. I still think that if they get into power the right wing will come out of hiding and try to blast Cameron into submission to their way of thinking. For what it's worth,. I don't think Cameron himself has a political anchor. He doesn't really believe much of what he's been selling to the British public over the last couple of years. But also I don't think he's actually as right wing as the 2005 manifesto that he wrote. He is a supreme salesman. If he believes in anything, he believes in privilege. But his political position has no weight, and he is therefore vulnerable to being knocked rightwards by the blasts that will come at him from the Tory roots.

But we strive to be democratic, and as somebody said grown up politics involves sometimes having to work with your enemies. I think we have already put ourselves into a good position by being consistent – the party with the mandate to govern should govern. The Tories have that is both votes and seats, so they get their chance.

Yes, we could prop up Brown, and his offer on electoral reform is probably more soundly based than anything we'd get from the Tories, because he knows it's his last chance. And, OK, many of us are instinctively closer to Labour than to the Tories. But I don't think the voters will forgive us in the end for keeping Gordon alive. And after all he has form – 13 years in power, not one step on electoral reform till he's on his political deathbed. Grown up politics sometimes means not working with your friends, when your friends have turned out not to be real friends.

At the same time we have to be clear about how much power we have, or rather don't have. We can do what we can, but it's limited in the face of a Tory party that hold most of the cards.

I don't think we should ally with them. It's a political calculation of costs and benefits. I do not believe we will get any great benefit – electoral reform in particular will be manoeuvred out of the way. Even if Cameron was half inclined to deliver it, any move in that direction would cause his troops to march him behind the bike sheds for a mock execution. Followed by a real one if he went any further.

So to my mind the resource and supply idea is probably our best bet. The key thing is for us to both act and present ourselves as acting for the good of the country and for the good of democracy. We must strive not to be saddled with responsibility for Tory actions that we really disagree with, and we must strive to present our arguments in favour of those actions that we do agree with. It will call on our Parliamentarians to be extremely well organised and extremely nimble to keep on top of all the political and procedural manoeuvrings that will take place. My MP is Norman Baker, and I know of nobody who works harder than he does, but he and all our other MPs will have to work even harder. All our new MPs will need to learn very quickly when to act and when not to act, and they will need immense support from our seasoned campaigners.

Along with that, we will need to take a good long look at all the party's resources, and rearrange them if need be to provide the best support we can to our MPs and our spokespeople over the next few months. Making sure that they get the support they need to make the right decisions, and making sure that the message gets out about how and why we are doing what we are doing is more important now than ever, so at some point soon, the powers that be in Cowley St and the regions need to have a good hard look at how our administrators and support staff can be best utilised. That is also part of the stuff of politics.

I have a couple of other minor observations about the current political situation. Firstly, there has been some talk of us being able to manoeuvre George Osborne out of the way and get Cameron to replace him with Ken Clarke. Much better idea for the country. But we have to get real about the amount of power we have. See the execution scenario above. The idea of a pro European in charge at the treasury is even less to the liking of the Tory grassroots than PR. So we're stuck with Sixth Form.

And secondly one of my biggest fears about a Tory majority was the social repression that might follow in its wake – votes on the hunting ban, and an all out assault on our abortion legislation, in particular. Those now seem much less likely with the Tories in a minority. I haven't looked at the balance of the new Parliament on those issues in detail and I have no idea how the numbers stack up. There will definitely be some people calling loud and long for them, but they will not get their way nearly so easily.