Maybe I start this latest blog with a contentious point; I think the Liberal Democrats are, in the main, honourable operators in the political framework.
Now before you start jumping up and down, I want you to forget the last five years, when they have found themselves embroiled in a battle with their coalition partners, and think back to how you viewed them before that. They were popular, they talked a lot of sense, and they were nice, sensible folk. Sure some of their policies were crackpot but surely thats allowed when you are a fringe party with no chance of power - isn’t that what opposition is all about for the little guys?
When the election results came out in 2010 I thought they would form a coalition with Labour. They were their natural partners and despite the fact that Gordon Brown was the worst Prime Minister this country had ever seen in terms of personality, he was one of the best when it came to his understanding of economics and what was needed for the world crisis. Brown was an inclusive PM in that he talked to other world leaders - he was, after all, hailed in the USA as the man who had found the way to save the world from its excesses.
But Nick Clegg made the (honourable?) decision to climb into bed with his arch enemies. And so began a hate relationship that has gone very badly for the LibDems. The Tories have managed to lay claim to the recovery and are now hijacking all the stuff the LibDems forced them to do and saying they were their ideas anyway.
So what would have happened if Clegg had forged a deal with Brown?
I think Gordo was on his uppers, he was massively unpopular, seen as a baffoon who couldn’t handle the PR stuff, but his own party felt he’d done a lot better in terms of seats than anybody had expected. He even offered to resign as part of the deal, offered a change of the voting system to PR without a referendum and (it now seems clear) much better ministerial clout to the LibDems.
The country would have a very different shape now if Clegg had done what the majority of his party members wanted him to do and joined with Labour. We may well have seem Miliband as PM; a man who is desperately unit for the job, BUT we would have seen Danny Alexander as Chancellor and Clegg as the front man in all but name.
The cuts would still have had to happen but there would have been fairer tax provisions and fewer tales of woe amongst the poorest and most vulnerable in society. The LibDems believe in collective responsibility and that might just have permeated society a bit more - we might all now be a bit more willing to help each other.
I’m a reader of Ayn Rand and she believed selfishness was the key to economic and societal success. She was brutal in her condemnation of socialism and wanted the free market to rule everything. She was also a very eloquent lady. I do believe light touch politics works best and Labour and the LibDems have a track record of loving the nanny state, but to be honest, there are only so many constraints you can put on people’s freedoms before they kick against it. I still believe Any Rand is right but maybe the country has an intrinsic social conscience that she never acquired.
I cannot second guess how a collaboration between Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg would have gone - I do believe the recovery is largely an act of big business and enterprise and would have been much the same no matter who was there. I also believe, however, that the LibDems would now be set to win a lot more seats (we’d be having our first PR election remember) and the Tories would be being ravaged by UKIP (if they hadn’t merged by now) - we would be accepting that we were looking at five more years of a Labour/LibDem coalition from 2015.
Ironic really that if Nick Clegg had read a little more Ayn Rand and been a bit more selfish (for the collective LibDem movement) rather than doing what he thought was honourable, he would be in a better place now and I think the country would have done just fine.
When, in years to come, clever folk write books about Nick Clegg’s legacy they will recognise he tried (and failed) to change politics forever. I doubt we will see any party get a majority at this election and we’ll see more pacts and arrangements. I do believe that the UK will be worse off as a consequence and the LibDems may have to try to walk whichever party they decide to support back into the middle ground. But the ‘coalition experiment’ was in the main a failure because, I contend, Nick Clegg backed the wrong horse.
Makes you think don’t it………