So, that’s the end of AV and the any discussion of electoral reform for the next 30 years or so, I reckon. On the bright side, it’s good to see that my Yes vote in the Wandsworth constituency sees my record of only backing losers in elections go into its record breaking 8th year. Join us again in 2015 when my hot streak continues its inevitable run under First Past the Post.
The Lib Dems have taken a fair bit of stick for this, as we all know. Their polling figures last week were pretty catastrophic for the party. I voted for them in 2010 (and in 2005 for that matter), and I don’t really regret doing it.
In fact, I think they’d be doing okay ratings wise if it weren’t for the massive capitulation on higher education funding. The argument that says “We didn’t win the election, so we have to compromise” works on most things, but not where you’ve signed pledges guaranteeing to vote against them in the next parliament. That’s the big deal, and why Labour’s many broken promises in government don’t see them getting similar anger - they weren’t stupid enough to make a big show of making promises on things they knew they might have to break.
But I also have a decent amount of sympathy for the Lib Dems and not just because I voted for them. They were essentially in a lose-lose-lose situation after the election, having got less seats on more votes than the previous parliament.
They had 3 choices:
1) Join the Tories in a Coalition
…and we know how that has turned out with the public at large. Mass protests, anger at broken promises and their getting in bed with the enemy.
Likely outcome: Narrow Tory/Labour outright win in 2015.
2) Join Labour, the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Greens and other assorted parties in a rainbow coalition This would have been even worse for them. Not only would it be an absolute pain to get a voting majority on anything with the thin number between the Tories and this Rainbow Coalition, but the right wing press would tear them to shreds as a ‘losers government’.
On top of this, the fact that Labour were committed to similar spending cuts to the Tories would mean that the government as a whole would face similar criticism as the current government does.
Likely outcome: Tory landslide victory in 2015.
3) Leave the Tories to a minority government.
This might ultimately have proven to be their best solution in terms of not ruining the Lib Dems reputation as progressively left of centre, but the trouble is they would also be open to accusations of bottling it big time.
One of the main criticisms of Liberal Democrats tends to be that they don’t live in the real world, so can promise everything and not need to worry about delivering. If they’d turned down the chance to be in government, it would be seen as confirmation by many that they’re hopeless idealists with no idea how to govern, given the chance.
It’s also the case that financially, the Lib Dems are on shakier ground than both Labour and the Conservatives, so can’t really afford to fight another election before 2015 - a minority government’s likely collapse would cause them serious difficulties.
Likely outcome: Early election and Tory/Labour majority victory
So what can they do now? Well, not a lot of options still:
1) Flex their muscles and get a bit more visibly angry at the Conservatives
This looks to be what they’re doing, but how effective it’ll be remains to be seen. A lot of people may respond to them 'growing a backbone’, but it’s a bit hard to swallow when they were previously so keen to pretend they agreed on everything.
The Tories are arguably in a stronger position than they were when the coalition government was formed, and the Lib Dems are objectively weaker. Neither really want a general election, but there’s no question that the Tories would be happier than the Lib Dems to see one called early, so any Liberal anger is likely to be more impotent than it was when they were all smiles. The Tories know they’re trapped and will be prepared to leave them ineffectually prowling in the angry dome.
2) Leave the coalition
Much as the common wisdom is that this should be their next move, it’s not something they can do. Their ratings are as low as they’ve been, and even if they took a slight boost from leaving the Tories, we’d still be talking about a massive reduction in Lib Dem seats in the inevitable early election. They’ve only taken the blame for the negatives of the coalition government, and want to get some positives if/when the country emerges from the recession.
And the other thing, as mentioned above, is that the Liberal Democrats simply can’t afford to go to the polls yet. Their election war-chest is pretty much emptied every 5 years, and without the rich doners of Labour and the Tories they’d be fighting on a shoe-string budget.
There’s also the Short Money, which is a grant given to opposition parties with which to campaign on. The Lib Dems have always needed this - unfortunately for them, they’ve lost it for the next 5 years because they went into government. Whoops.
3) Kick out Nick Clegg
This one comes in two flavours - they either leave the coalition or they stay in it and fight more fiercely. Both give them a little more credibility than if Clegg tried to do it himself because it doesn’t represent a total about-face, but equally neither’s guaranteed to help and leaves them open to accusations of failing to live in the real world.
On top of this, the most likely candidate is Chris Huhne, who fought the last leadership battle before losing to Clegg by a slim margin - mainly because there was very little to choose between the two candidates. This would most likely be change for change’s sake.
So, yeah… they’re a bit stuck really. And as it stands right now, even though I completely see the logic in everything they’ve done, if there was an election tomorrow, I’d vote Green or Labour.
If they’re having trouble convincing me - who has taken time to listen to their arguments and research it - then they’re going to really struggle to convince those who just see them as the party of broken promises. Not a good time to be orange.