Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t

It’s been fascinating following the twists and turns surrounding the formation of the next government over the past few days. The Liberal Democrats have been caught in the middle, attacked by the left for talking to the Tories, and mauled by the right for talking to Labour. It looks increasingly likely that they’ll come to an agreement with the Conservatives, but hopefully they’ll manage to wield some influence – restraining influence if nothing else – over the next government.

I have no expectations of electoral reform coming out of this agreement, but then the Conservatives have survived for centuries by bending just a little when circumstances call for it. I can see AV or possibly even AV+ coming out of this parliament, but I expect swathes of Tories (and Labour) MPs to campaign against it should a referendum occur. I expect the right-wing media to do its bit to block any reform too.

AV/AV+ at least maintains the constituency link while offering the opportunity of a more representative parliament (it has been shown to swing things wildly the other way too, although it’s always difficult applying the results of an election run under one system to another, as people might vote differently). Then perhaps in time an elected upper chamber might appear with a more proportional system of election, with the power to revise and maybe even block legislation, acting as another brake on over-mighty governments of the type wielded by first Thatcher and then Blair/Brown.

What’s obvious is that political reform is needed, but at the same time we have an economic crisis to deal with. And like it or not, the Tories have usually proved more adept with dealing with financial messes (even their own – witness the state of the country in 1997 when it was handed over to Labour, an economy fully recovered and in a healthy state). Whatever happens, we’re in for a rough few years as the burden of debt left by Brown’s economic mismanagement since 1997 weighs heavily on us all.

One final thought: it’s in the larger parties interests to see the Liberal Democrats pilloried for whichever position they take. Large sections of people have taken this bait, attacking the Lib Dems for putting their own interests ahead of the country’s. That assumes you accept the argument that both the Tory and Labour manifestos are designed solely for the good of everyone in the country, and past experience should teach us otherwise. There are holes in everyone’s manifestos, so please don’t start throwing mud at the Lib Dems without targeting the other two parties too. Unless, of course, you believe everything that Murdoch and his fellow right-wing media barons tell you, and that would just make you a bit stupid, wouldn’t it?

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