Nick Clegg’s getting a lot of offers this weekend. But none of them can be making him very happy.
Only three weeks ago he was being feted as the new figure in British politics, the man who was going to end the two party system. Now his disappointed party, which was unable to even match its 2005 performance in terms of numbers of seats, is being asked to support one or the other of those main parties in forming a government.
He knows that whatever he does it will be unpopular in some quarters of his own party and there is a very real chance that it will also cost him votes and wider public support.
Take the most likely option: that Clegg backs David Cameron’s Tories, either in coalition or by giving limited support to a Tory minority government. Clegg has already made clear that, as the party with the biggest number of seats and votes, Cameron has the right to have first shot at forming a government. The Libdems and Tories are engaged in talks to try to make that happen.
But the Tory option will displease many Libdems, who in any case see themselves as on the progressive wing of politics. They will not be reassured by Cameron’s overtures. While saying he will commit to certain manifesto promises where Libdem and Tory policies are similar, he is not playing ball over anything important. As the Guardian reported (8.5.10):
‘The Tory leader indicated that there were four areas that would not be up for negotiation: tackling the £163bn fiscal deficit this year, not granting any more powers to the EU, not being “soft or weak” on immigration and keeping Britain’s defence strong. ‘
So nothing on Trident, an immigrants’ ‘amnesty’ or any concessions on inheritance tax, swingeing cuts or cutting benefits.
When it comes to constitutional reform, Cameron simply cannot win any serious change to the electoral system with his own party, even if he wanted to try.
Labour, on the other hand, is pleading with Clegg to join them in return for big moves towards PR. Labour MPs and ministers are queuing up to talk about progressive majorities and how they can work together. This will appeal to a lot of Libdems, who will be extremely dubious about any deal with Cameron, but not to Clegg himself who is on the right of the party, and who proclaimed during the election campaign that he would not work with Gordon Brown.
The failure of any party to make a breakthrough in this election is haunting them all, and is leading to internal crises in all the parties. Cameron is not liked by much of his party, who went along with him on the assumption that he would lead them to victory after 13 years.
His failure to do so is already leading to discontent within the Tories, and will limit his room for manoeuvre with the Libdems. Cameron is in a difficult position, without a stable parliamentary majority, having to please Murdoch and the City and facing major economic crisis.
Many Labour MPs would no doubt like a LibLab coalition without Brown, but that is extremely difficult to do given Labour’s share of votes and seats, and because it would mean that the new prime minister would not be any of the three party leaders during the election.
So the money markets’ demand that all this difficult post election bartering is done and dusted before they open on Monday may not be granted. We’ll see how they respond.
The election itself has produced some strange and often welcome results. The single best of these was the routing of the BNP, most spectacularly in barking and Dagenham, where all 12 BNP councilors lost their seats, but also around the country. Labour’s vote was very strong in some parts of Britain, notably London and Scotland.
In some areas, Labour candidates stacked up increased votes and stopped the Tories from winning a number of targeted seats. Cameron’s favoured candidates in Westminster North and Hammersmith were defeated, and Labour’s vote in London was higher than the Tories’ even though they lost seven seats to them.
That strong Labour vote didn’t help the smaller parties of the left. The Greens don’t seem to have done well outside of Caroline Lucas’s win in Brighton, and Respect lost its seat in east London. George Galloway was sadly defeated in his challenge to Labour minister Jim Fitzpatrick, whose boorish acceptance speech showed what a threat Respect had been to Labour.
The failure to maintain that was less to do with declining interest in the Iraq war, and more to do with what happens when the left is divided. Even so, the left candidates with the best votes by far were those associated with the anti war movement.
This election did get rid of some people who it was nice to see the back of: Charles Clarke, Jaqui Smith, Peter Robinson. Most importantly, it showed that actually there is a progressive mood in British politics which can be harnessed to campaigning for the changes that parliament cannot bring. That’s the most important task for the left now.
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
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