Crazy Coalition Nation

I have been a bit busy the past few weeks. I volunteered for a whirlwind bit of leafleting and door knocking for the Liberal Democrats, the party I hoped would win more seats in this election. My husband has been a nearly life long Lib Dem supporter, and me, being socially progressive who supports a limited welfare state, EU, electoral reform, and all those grand Liberal ideals figured I’d lend them my support at least for this election. It was either them or The Greens, and I felt that the Lib Dems had more chance at gaining influence and pushing for electoral reform.

A week ago last night, I sat with a heavy heart as I heard the preliminary exit poll results: the Lib Dems had gained votes, but may lose seats and Labour probably hadn’t gained enough seats to form a stable coalition with the Lib Dems and other progressive parties. Over the next few days I listened to pundits both amateur and professional weigh in on how Nick Clegg should act in his role as “king maker”. In reality there was only one choice that didn’t almost automatically promise another election just around the corner. He joined with Cameron’s Conservatives in a formal coalition.

I am meant to feel betrayed, but I just can’t muster that sense of being tricked. Any Lib Dem supporter must have known that this was a possibility all along. This is what coalition governments sometimes produces: strange bedfellows. I am uneasy, afraid for our country and this party I felt enough aligned with to sacrifice more of my time than most people will give over their lifetime for a political cause, but I can’t muster outrage at Clegg’s decision. And it must be a cold day in Hell, because I am going to quote a Tory here and echo the question Michael Heseltine asked of those showing outrage at the Lib Dem’s decision to join with the Tories: “What would you have had Clegg do?”

It could have been worse. Without the influence of “Cleggomania”, the Tories could have swept to power. Or, honestly, we could have had another solid Labour majority as it does its lurch rightwards and towards an even more authoritarian stance. Want to know who I feel betrayed by? Hint, the party’s name starts with an “L”, but it ends with an “r”. Their performance in the past parliament could have been done by a party operating from a Conservative manifesto, but with more draconian state invasion of citizens’ lives.

Progressive Labour has brought us Workfare during a period of little job growth and high unemployment. “Progressive” Labour were the ones who decided to bring punitive restrictions to non-EU migration to make up for their cock-up in being one of only three countries in the EEA to allow unrestricted migration from new member states. Instead of confronting the myths about immigration, they fostered them and allowed it to become a campaign issue. “Progressive” Labour brought us this deficit (note: I said deficit and not economic crisis) and the cuts that are to follow will be in part “Labour” cuts. They will be Conservative and Labour cuts because the Lib Dems will have had very little to no responsibility in creating them.

Labour has swung right because the left seems to have decided to define itself as “not Tory”. We need to demand more of that from Labour or it will continue to rely on that to appeal to the left while expecting the weak Tory and swing voters to vote for them on their “populist” stances. I expect that unless this is addressed, you will find a Labour party banging on about being even tougher on immigration than the Tories in the next election. Immigrants are a safe target because the ones that feel the direct effect of new immigration policies can’t vote yet.

Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t want the Tories to have any power, but enough people living in the right places believed that they did, so for now they have it. I hope dearly that the Lib Dems can temper them, and I hope that the coalition holds. We need to deal with the deficit at some point. This is a reality we’ve known about for a long time.

I am going to wait and see how this turns out. But even if the Lib Dems end up messing this up, I hope Labour realises it has to go a long way to redeem itself before I consider supporting their bid for government. I urge anyone else to demand the same from them. Do not let them pander to the right and take their left base for granted ever again.

As for the left, I think we should regroup and try to find some other common ground other than “we aren’t the Tories”.


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May 2010
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