Now we know what the LibDems really, really want. It’s to get into government.
Nick Clegg is deputy prime minister (not bad for a leader who lost seats in the election) and another four LibDems will be in Cabinet. They will have little power (not in defence and foreign policy, nor over the economy, with all three posts firmly in Tory hands).
They have given up supposedly strongly held policies to win office. Any possible abolition of Trident has gone. The amnesty for illegal immigrants has gone. Commitment to closer ties with the EU has gone.
In return the LibDems have won commitment to a referendum on the Alternative Vote (not its favoured choice of PR) which the Tories are free to campaign against, backed up by the Tory press. They have won a fixed term parliament (although this can be overthrown by 55 % of MPs). They have some concessions on raising tax thresholds.
But they have - most importantly of all - committed to the Tory plans for an extra £6bn cuts which are coming very soon and which will tear at the heart of public sector jobs and conditions, pensions and the welfare state.
The LibDems will be sitting in parliament alongside the Tories justifying attacks on the poorest and most hard working in order to please the bankers and the rich.
The strong Labour vote in areas such as London and Scotland reflects a class reaction against these threatened cuts - even if Labour was going to implement its own range of cuts, but not on such a scale.
Those who voted LibDem to keep out the Tories or to punish Labour are devastated, as they should be. But this isn’t a matter of private grief. It’s a matter of understanding what’s taking place here politically.
In fact the ConLib coalition marks the end of the road for a particular form of LibDem triangulation: it had a right wing face to appeal to disgruntled Tories (there is nothing liberal about the Tory/LibDem coalitions which have run local councils in recent year; and a left wing face for those fed up with New Labour’s policies.
How many people voted for Clegg on May 6th because they opposed the Iraq war, wanted to scrap Trident, disliked the attacks on immigrants, or wanted the poor to pay less tax?
It will be very hard for the LibDems to play such a role again. One reason why they were so desperate to get a fixed term was because an election in the near future threatened to see them lose many votes to Labour or the nationalist parties in Scotland and Wales. Many people will not vote for them if they think it means Cameron or his party.
Clegg is firmly on the right of his party and has no problem doing deals with the Tories. He was the person who said he couldn’t work with Brown during the election, and who said Cameron had the right to form a government on Friday morning. Let’s see what effect it has on his party over the coming months.
Tories too are not happy. A ConservativeHome.com survey of more than 3000 Tories found that 62% thought the Cameron campaign poor. Many will have preferred a Tory minority government and will balk at many concessions to the LibDems.
It is a weak coalition. Economic crisis, Europe, war and working class struggle can all weaken and perhaps terminate it. Labour is now in opposition, choosing a new leader and choosing how and where to fight.
It is down but not out, with a better vote in some areas than expected and enough seats for a serious opposition. Whether it understands what went wrong for Labour was not its leader but its Blairite policies is another matter.
The Guardian reported today, ‘Analysts at Morgan Stanley reckoned that the pound could have fallen to $1.35 -from around $1.50 yesterday - if a LabLib coalition had been formed.’ So the markets are happy...up to a point.
Debt, deficit and huge bailouts in Europe still dominate the real world. And this government has to try to bring the Greek austerity to Britain.
With a majority not having voted for cuts this year, a British Airways strike on the horizon, plus a war which is losing against a background of economic recession, we are in interesting times.
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’.
More articles from this author
- When Towering Inferno meets Groundhog Day - weekly briefing
- Protecting war criminals and torturers: the Tory bill and Starmer's shame
- Second time farce, but it will lead to tragedy - weekly briefing
- Where next for the left? - Lindsey German
- Tory failure: the explanation lies beyond stupidity - weekly briefing
- No to the exam factory: what kind of education do we want? - video
- Labour adrift while the second wave builds - weekly briefing