Mark – my words

Clegg didn’t fail, we did

No single party won last year’s election. Most obviously, the LibDems didn’t win – in case you didn’t notice, they came third. Yet many people, including those who voted LibDem, are now expressing hatred of Nick Clegg, because as deputy Prime Minister, he is failing to implement LibDem policies.

This attitude strikes me as irrational, unfair, and immature, even childish.

LibDem policies were fairly decisively rejected by a majority of voters, so there was no mandate to implement them. Because we the voters delivered an inconclusive result, no single party can claim to have an exclusive mandate. This, like it or not, was the outcome of last year’s election, but Clegg is being vilified for “breaking his promises”.   He had no right to carry out those promises, because he had no mandate. He didn’t fail; the voters, hamstrung by a dysfunctional electoral system, failed, and now we’re castigating the victims of our failure?

The unpopular coalition between the Conservatives and the LibDems and its programme of action, which nobody likes much either, was the result of political horse-trading well described in the tragic David Laws’s book 22 days in May. The alternative would have been a minority government: either the Conservatives attempting to push through their brutal policies unmodified, and a likely series of Commons defeats; or a holed-below-the-waterline Gordon Brown administration, preoccupied with a struggle for succession, limping and blundering in the midst of a fiscal crisis. Either way, there would almost certainly have been another election within 12 months, with no assurance of any more decisive outcome.

Poor as it is, the coalition is probably the best option there was. All we can do now is grit our teeth and hope to survive the hard times. Meanwhile on the 5th of May, we can, if we so choose, adopt a slightly fairer, slightly more representative electoral system, the Alternative Vote, which might just make the next election more decisive.


3 responses to “Clegg didn’t fail, we did

  1. Jon 2011-02-20 at 14:58

    I like some of your points. You’re right to note that Clegg can’t be entirely blamed for not driving an exclusive LibDem agenda. However, he has had an influence on Tory policy and in a way, which does not please many. This is the reality of proportional representation. One of the upsides to a first past the post system is that it does make a single party entirely accountable for their actions.

    What we have seen here with a coalition is a melange of compromises, which pleases no-one but Labor who so contributed to the mess we are now in, that they are standing back and declaring how they would do things differently and how incompetent the current government are. It’s a nice position for them to be in. The coalition is forcing through some hard policies, and I doubt that any parties with the conviction required to do it, would be popular. However, the horse-trading has simply made some things more complex, and with fewer opportunities to highlight who is to reward or hold accountable if things don’t turn out well.

    This is invariably what we will end up with as a matter of course if PR gets truly implemented. It will lead to general dissatisfaction with the outcome of politics, relatively instability should a smaller party hold the rest to ransom, and much less capability to take a very long-term view of difficult decisions.

    Ideally there should be a single winner, albeit with a small majority to ensure they stay honest. The three previous Labor terms with huge majorities showed many of the evils of a single party who had no accountability nor cared for public opinion. After all, even backbench dissenters could rarely affect a decided outcome by the PM. How this can be resolved is a difficult position, but PR is hardly the solution it is held up to be.

    • poplarmark 2011-02-20 at 17:22

      I don’t think we can draw any conclusions about proportional representation from the behaviour of the current coalition. Yes there have been compromises, but that’s what it takes for two parties with fairly radically different ideologies to get along together and to make some kind of a fist of governing under the prevailing circumstances.

      PR is not on the agenda. It’s not on offer in the upcoming referendum. Alternative vote is not a proportional system, and with the present patterns of voting in the UK, it’s more likely to result in a majority government than FPTP which, face it, just delivered us a hung parliament and a coalition.

      You say that FPTP “does make a single party entirely accountable for their actions.” Can’t argue with that, but I certainly do argue with the legitimacy of entrusting such power to a party which has a clear minority of the votes cast at the election.

      • Jon 2011-02-20 at 18:54

        I agree that the alternate vote is not a PR system. It certainly hasn’t become that in Australia, but Oz is a country notoriously compacent with politics, where voting is compulsory. If not, hardly anyone would vote the for poor representation willing to stand. In the UK however, I expect that AV is likely to lead to PR. No in the very near future, but in the spirit of ‘fairness’, perhaps smuggled in. I have no personal issues with PR, but it’s being positioned as a panacea for the problems with FPTP, and it brings with it a number of other issues.

        You say “Yes there have been compromises, but that’s what it takes for two parties with fairly radically different ideologies to get along together and to make some kind of a fist of governing under the prevailing circumstances”. This is my point. PR is based on compromises and parties effectively lobbying on a platform of what they would like to do, but would never be able to commit to without a clear mandate.

        You’re right though. FPTP didn’t deliver a single party in the last election. Entrusting a single party to power without a clear majority would be a sham. This coallition is an unlikely partnership. Middle-class lefties tollerating middle-class righties, and unfortunately the LibDems are getting a hard time over it from all sides. However, the public can finally see what they stand for – not pretty. They were representing themselves as having a higher moral position, and stood out as less than consistent (I’m really understating this). Not that any party would have had an easy ride, nor come out shining. I think it’s an ideal opportunity though for a shake up to happen. Should it be with the system, or the personalities who have dominated politics to date? Maybe that’s the question.

        Perhaps going back to the people to deliver a single party majority is an option. However, the current coalition hasn’t yet failed. The fact that there are difficult decisions to make, and hard times in front of us doesn’t do credit to the validity of those decisions yet. We need some 20/20 hindsight to verify it, and this may take quite some time.

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