Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Morning After: My Thoughts

It may seem strange that a victory of 462 votes to 124 on the Bill for an elected Lords is coming across as a defeat – but let’s make no mistake. A defeat it is. Because of Labour’s lack of support for a programme motion, which would have set a timetable, the Tory rebellion would have been big enough to defeat the motion - and hence the Conservatives can now simply talk the Bill out.

Labour wanted it both ways – they supported the Bill to reform the Lords and then colluded with the Tory rebels to ensure that it would never happen. In trying to wear two hats, and hence two faces, the new modern Labour party is defending the privilege and patronage of the House of Lords. The Con-Lab coalition, referred to in my last post, is as strong as ever.

As for the Conservatives, clearly David Cameron has lost all discipline and authority in his party. He can no longer bring anything for certainty to the table. There is no point in a second coalition agreement as Cameron cannot guarantee that he can deliver. If he had shown some leadership ages ago, and removed the whip from one or two troublemakers, then the rest would have fallen into line. Instead he is now a lame duck leader. A teacher unable to control the children. In football terms, he has ‘lost the dressing room’.

Our greatest contempt should go to those Tory ‘rebels’. As I put in an earlier post, the Lib Dems have given and sacrificed much to provide a stable government in difficult economic times for the good of the country, and have held their noses as they have voted for Conservative policies. In return, the Tories and media have just thrown abuse and insults at Clegg and the party – like a spoilt child always wanting more.

The Conservative parliamentary party are simply too immature to be seriously trusted with any power and responsibility – and Cameron knows it.

In a way I feel sorry for David Cameron. We will be rid of the Tory backbenchers in 2015. He is lumbered with them for eternity.

So where do we go from here? Firstly, despite my harsh words, it is my view we should not end the coalition. The main reason for the coalition – to provide stability and work towards reducing the deficit – remains. In one aspect, the rebels are correct – the economy is the most important issue and we must continue to work together with the more adult Tories to get that right.

However, we should reject any coalition after 2015. If either of the other two get a majority, then good luck to them. We should back them if we agree and fight where we do not. Otherwise we should be prepared to work with any other party but on a much looser basis. We cannot continue the coalition with the Conservatives, when as demonstrated David Cameron is unable to keep his word, and nor should we enter coalition with Labour, who would clearly prefer to work with the Tories.

In opposition, we should use that time to regroup and rebuild, and continue to scrutinise whoever forms the government. We can then come back revived and refreshed in 2020.

But this is three years away and there is still much to do. For now we should keep going, keep winning the arguments, keep both eyes on the Tories, and keep pushing forward with the main objective to do what we can to make this country a fairer society by 2015.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The War Of Two Coalitions

Over the last two years, it has become clearer and more evident that our political landscape is a struggle between two coalitions. We have one coalition which is open, temporary, business-like and at times unsteady. And there is another which is very firm, strong and long-lasting, and possibly will out-live all of us.

The first is the current Conservative-Liberal Democrats coalition (‘Con-LD’). This currently runs the government and was the result of an indecisive general election. Its’ main purpose is to secure a stable administration during difficult economic times and put into place a deficit reduction programme and other measures agreed in a coalition agreement. It is due to run for five years and come to an end in 2015.

However, it becomes clearer each day that its’ main opponent is the formidable Conservative-Labour coalition (‘Con-Lab’). This is a far stronger coalition, in place since 1945, and infinitely more difficult to break down. Its successful objective has been to work together to secure the two party hegemony. This coalition is, of course, secret and unacknowledged by either party.

So where is the evidence for this contention – that in any dispute with a third party, the two big old failed parties will close ranks? This is as follows.

Firstly, since the 1970s, the ‘others’ have secured at least a quarter of the votes. The Liberals in 1974 and the Alliance in 1983-87 got 25% alone, and were rewarded with a tiny fraction of seats. To the horrors of the Con-Lab coalition, 35% (over a third) of voters chose someone else in 2010. We are now clearly a multi-party democracy.

Any sane society would seek to reflect this change of circumstances by putting into place a fairer electoral system. Instead the Con-Lab coalition have robustly defended first-past-the-post – a system which grossly over-inflates their vote, and makes it possible, as we saw in 2005, that one party can dominate parliament with 35% of the votes – barely a fifth of the electorate.

As the Soviet empire fell, and as democracy spread throughout eastern Europe, Africa and Asia, it is noteworthy that no new democratic country has adopted the first-past-the-post system to choose their representatives.

True, we had a referendum on changing the system, into which the Tories and the media pulled their enormous resources. Despite Ed Miliband’s support, did we get a full throttle, active campaign from Labour – or instead a mixed, half-hearted effort more interested in working with the Tories and against Nick Clegg rather than take this historic opportunity?

Secondly, since 1945, the rules of party funding continue to bias the two big parties. The Tories have big business and Labour have the trade unions. The Liberal Democrats and others have quiz nights and car boot sales. So the Con-Lab coalition can dwarf anyone else in terms of putting resources into campaigning. (Party funding is currently being reviewed but does anyone think there will be actual genuine change?)

Thirdly, before the current Con-LD coalition, there was one example of third party co-operation since 1945 – the Lib-Lab Pact of 1977-78 of which I wrote earlier. The Liberals' reward was to be proportional representation for the first European Parliament elections in 1979 – yet when it came to it, Labour betrayed the Liberals and voted with the Tories to ensure first-past-the-post.

And finally, we come to the most recent example – House of Lords reform. This is a once-in-a-century opportunity to finally have a second elected democratically-accountable chamber. Labour should be enthusiastically supporting this principle. Instead they plan to ally with the Tory rebels to ensure the reforms are talked out.

The ghosts of the great socialists of the past must be disgusted that, after all the struggles it took to get socialism established in this country, their beloved Labour party are now backing privilege and patronage over democracy. Keir Hardie and Michael Foot must be rolling in their graves.

It is suggested that the Liberal Democrats may block the boundary changes. Tories need not worry. If there is any doubt, I think Labour will vote to push them through. The changes may harm Labour and benefit the Tories – but they will harm the Liberal Democrats most of all – and, in my view, Labour would be happy to see years of Tory government, and the country suffer as a result, if it meant the extinction of the Liberal Democrats.

Of course, there are certain people on both sides prepared to defy the Con-Lab coalition and work with others. To his credit, David Cameron has proved willing to work with the Lib Dems, has become the first Prime Minister to sacrifice his right to call an election at will, and is to an extent promoting Lords reform. For Labour, Ed Miliband and Peter Mandelson have discussed willingness to work across party lines. Whether each can defeat the establishment within their own parties is doubtful.

This brings us to the question – how can we break this coalition? How can we end the Con-Lab coalition which has been in effect since 1945? Well, the answer is – I don’t know. The Con-LD coalition will end soon but the Con-Lab deal is as strong as concrete. The only hope is with the other parties – Liberal Democrats, UKIP, the Green, the Nationalists, the English Democrats etc.

If we can see more and more votes taken away from the big two, if we eventually see more progressive leadership from either big party, if we see our multi-party democracy continue to grow and develop, then maybe – just maybe – we will get genuine change in this country. Although how many of us will be around to see it is another question.