All the bets are now on a Tory Libdem coalition to form the government which, by British standards, is a very long time in coming - nearly a week after voting took place.
Despite the increasingly sleazy round of speed dating carried out by Nick Clegg, Labour’s offer has been rebuffed and David Cameron is the new prime minister. Gordon Brown’s attempt to use his own resignation to force an alternative has failed.
This, according to the media, is the Libdems ‘voting with their heads rather than their hearts’. That’s a strange way of putting it. Because logically there is at least as much to lose for the Libdems by going into a coalition with Cameron than there is from joining with Labour. After all, the majority of Libdem voters see themselves as left of centre rather than right wing. In places like Hornsey and Wood Green or Southwark, or Sheffield Hallam, they didn’t vote Libdem to see them get into bed with the Tories. Nor did they in places like Wells or Chippenham, rural areas where the Libdem vote is clearly an anti Tory one.
So such a coalition is likely to see many Libdem voters switching to Labour or other parties in the next election. Hardly voting with your head then. Apparently the Tories have made some concessions on raising tax thresholds so that no one under £10,000 a year pays income tax. But even if this is pushed through how does it sit with the Tories reducing inheritance tax for the double millionaires - some of their closest friends and family? The Libdems in government will find such issues hard to justify, and these will further infuriate many of their voters and members.
Then there is the referendum on the Alternative Vote system (itself a system which will not much alter how votes translate into seats and which therefore is not favoured by the Libdems who prefer STV). How easy will it be to get such a referendum through the new parliament, with possible opposition in both of the largest parties? And will it be won if the main government party campaigns against it, as Cameron is promising to do?
Coalition assumes it will be an equal partnership but it will not. The language of old Tory bruisers like Michael Heseltine indicates contempt for the Libdems and their voters which will never be far from the surface. The Tory media will pillory Clegg if he attempts the mildest criticism of his Tory partners, or tries to push through any of his more radical policies.
The idea that allying with Labour would be the Libdems using their heart is also wide of the mark. It’s true that in general their votes come from left of centre and many policies are more similar. But the Libdems (or at least Clegg and co) are also anti union, pro free market and veer towards Tory policies in areas such as education. The talks with Labour came from an astute calculation that this was what many Libdems would actually want, and that a ‘progressive alliance’ would be popular among many voters who on May 6th formed an anti Tory majority.
But there were too many obstacles in their way as well. Gordon Brown played a very bad hand well, and used his resignation as an attempt to keep Labour in office, but was met by a revolt of his own MPs. Right wingers like John Reid and David Blunkett came out publicly against a deal, but so too did some on the left, such as Diane Abbott, fearing a Blair style LibLab pact which would crush the left.
Brown himself has been the subject of some vile attacks in the press - hardly new but even more despicable since the election. In fact, nothing became Brown’s premiership like the leaving of it: his last week of the campaign and his behavior since showed him, whatever you think of his politics, as a politician of a different stature from the Cleggs and Camerons.
This hasn’t stopped the media from getting increasingly hysterical about Labour and Brown: whatever they are putting in the water at Sky News is badly affecting Adam Boulton. The press was overwhelmingly for the Tories and seems incapable of understanding that nearly two thirds of the electorate didn’t endorse the anointment of Cameron from Wapping and Canary Wharf. Yet the press got this election as wrong as anyone, nor do most editorial positions reflect majority opinion on a range of issues.
Any Labour Libdem pact would have brought down the wrath of the press, the establishment and the Tories themselves. But a coalition provides little comfort to many Libdems, who don’t want a deal with the Tories, or to many Tories who would rather have a minority government.
So the end result is relatively weak government which will struggle to stay in office for a full term. There is also now turmoil in all the main parties. If Labour can elect a new leader and stabilize itself, it may be reasonably well poised for another election, since Labour is the only main party which did better than it thought it would on May 6th. The Libdems are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. And there is seething resentment among Tory MPs about the Cameron gang for its failure to win a majority. He may assuage that for a bit once he’s in Downing St.
But with cuts, tax rises and economic crisis on the immediate horizon, that may not be much of a bet.
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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