Sunday 9 May 2010

Consensus Politics

I don't envy Nick Clegg over the next few days. He's been handed (by 23% of the electorate) the awesome task of deciding who it is that should govern us all (100% of the electorate, plus all those who didn't vote). Not an easy thing for one man to do (impossible, it seems, for the almost 30 million who did vote to do).

Rest assured though that Nick is not taking his duties lightly. He has urged '...all political leaders to act in the national interest and not out of narrow, party-political advantage,' and one can only assume that he plans to follow that advice himself. Even if we gloss over the admission that what's good for the country and good for the Liberal Democratic Party might be different things, Nick's good intentions will still require some careful thought from him as to what actually is in the public interest.

His starting point must, surely, be to adhere wherever possible to the the will of the people, as so confusingly expressed by the election result.

Clearly, in order to do a deal with either the Tories or Labour, there will be a degree of give and take on policy, but thankfully, there are some policy issues on which the electorate has expressed itself with a uncharacteristic degree of agreement. Those are the policies over which the two largest parties were, before the election, in broad agreement. If David and Gordon agreed then, as far as we can tell from the votes, so did 65% of us.

It would seem perverse of Nick, in his negotiations with either party, to try and go against any of those policies.

One obvious example is Trident. Now broadly speaking, when it comes to not replacing Trident, I, ahem... ahem..., agree with Nick. It's a solution to a problem that's not the one we currently face. But in democratic terms I have to concede that both Labour and Tories want to replace Trident and that combined, 65% of us voted for them. Now of course that's not to say that everyone who voted Labour or Tory agreed with every one of their policies, but neither is it for me, or Nick Clegg, or anyone to try and second guess exactly what a vote for Labour or Conservative meant on this issue.

Simply enough, if Nick wants to work for the good of the country rather than his party, then on this issue he should go with the people and, in negotiations with either of the other parties, drop any insistence on non-replacement of Trident.

And there's another issue on which 65% of the population were voted for parties which were in broad agreement - proportional representation. The Conservatives have always been implacably against PR, and Labour's suggestion of the Alternative Vote system is (as discussed previously on these pages) regarded by no one as having any resemblance to PR whatsoever (it would have increased Labour's parliamentary majority on the same popular vote in 2005). It may be the case that Labour has now undergone a death-bed conversion to PR, but that was after the people had voted. The 29% who did vote Labour, did so on the basis of a commitment not to introduce PR.

So on the issue of balancing 'the national interest' against 'narrow, party political advantage' is would seem that the Liberal Democrats must drop PR from any list of demands they make in negotiations with either party. In terms of the nation, 65% seem not to want it. In terms of party politics, well, who really benefits?

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