Saturday, May 07, 2011

Negotiating skills

At the last general election the Liberal Democrats were brilliantly placed to act as power brokers. I can understand why a coalition with Labour, despite a broad level of agreement on the main issues, did not get off the ground as it would not have commanded a majority in the House and Labour were not the largest party. But to form a coalition with the Tories, where there were huge policy differences, would mean a substantial revision of Conservative Party policy. Of course, this is precisely what coalition government is supposed to do.  So how did the Lib Dem leadership grasp this unique opportunity?

1. The single most important area of government is political economy. The Lib Dems vehemently opposed Tory plans to reduce the deficit through rapid cuts in public expenditure. So they agreed to support and actively implement Tory plans to reduce the deficit through rapid cuts in public expenditure.

2. Next in salience comes education. They pledged to abolish university tuition fees and then agreed and defended the policy which has seen them rise to up to £9,000 p.a.

3. Of course health is a big electoral issue. The Lib Dems were opposed to 'top-down' reorganisation of the NHS. They are now part of a government which is attempting a radical top-down reorganisation of the NHS. (Mind you the Tories were also opposed at the general election - just where did that one come from?)

4. Finally, on the constitution, proportional representation was the Liberal Democrat's big issue. This was surely the one policy that was not negotiable. They could hardly enter a coalition that was not prepared to offer PR. So they used this unique opportunity to win a commitment merely to hold a referendum with only one choice between the existing system and a replacement that was not proportional and which they and most other advocates of electoral reform, including myself, rejected. Holding a referendum on something that nobody wanted never looked a winner. And it wasn't.

A radical Tory government has emerged unscathed from deeply unpopular policies; the electoral system, whose unrepresentative nature has cemented Conservative power on minority support for most of the post-war period*, is now unchallengeable; Liberal Democrat support has crashed.

So my question is - you are going to a car dealer's showroom. Who out of our unsavoury political leadership would you take with you to help you negotiate?

*And if you doubt this, look at how ruthlessly the Tories campaigned to retain it. They understand the mechanics of power.


Rab said...

Good post, Peter
Made me laugh and really angry at the same time.

There must be intelligent Lib Dems somewhere who just hope that this is all a nightmare and they wake up back in 2009 sometime soon.

Anton Deque said...

I am personally grateful to Nick Clegg. I always felt somewhat guilty about despising the Liberal Democrats. I don't have that problem any more.

Worse is Alex Salmond. I have to admit that he is the only leading figure (in any sort of position, actually) in British politics who looks up to the job. The result in Scotland is entirely dure to his voter appeal.

Herr Gonk said...

Lack of jolly old money, ol' chap. Britons need to start raiding their neighbouring countries to add to the treasury if they want to retain expensive bureaucracies like the NHS.