Saturday, 7 May 2011

No more shabby little compromises

From the triumphalist tone, you would be forgiven from thinking that the AV referendum result draws a line for ever under any attempts to change one iota of the ideal constitutional framework that we enjoy within the United Kingdom.  Indeed, when even the Deputy Prime Minister (for now), joins his feeble grunt to the stentorian barking of "back to business as usual" (i.e. the Liberals being shafted by the Tories) it is hard not to imagine that secretly he is quite relieved that he will draw a large salary and pension contributions a little longer.

For once, I agreed with Nick.  AV was a bastardised compromise, not proportional, not a significant reform but it did represent a faltering increment towards a more functional electoral system.  In the "best British tradition", no less.  And it was all that could be secured given the election result in 2010.  So I was happy to vote for a crack in the dam rather than a wholesale draining of the cesspool.

Now Clegg may be cannier than he looks, although for those of us schooled in evidence-based policy development there is a probability tending to zero.  However, he is now tainted in government and tainted in the eyes of his party.  What he forgets is that there is very little tribal Liberal Democracy to fall back on.  There are awkward old Liberals (of all ages) who believe that the liberty and rights of the citizen are the bedrock upon which all political, economic and social progress are defined by, and the self-styled "radical centre" - but many of them drifted back into Labour when Blair deracinated the party to such an extent that they could feel at home.  Neither of these groups are tribal to the extent that the Tories are, nor does it have the emotional connection that makes people stay Labour even when their leadership drifts off into the grip of Murdoch's neo-con lunacy.

Clegg's leadershup has already been questioned - and it's clear that there are many in the party who are waiting for his failure to be punished but who are probably waiting until after next year's local humiliations to determine whether it is worth throwing their hats into the ring or whether they would be best advised to retreat to their constituencies and distance themselves from the fiasco - with the possibility that with traditional Liberal patience their constituents might forgive their involvement in the denouement.  Hopefully he will be aware that he is under scrutiny and that there will be an unwillingness to take the consequences of Tory unpopularity, purely to stop some of the most outrageous Thatcherisms from being inflicted on the electorate.

Yet this is a side-show.  Reform doesn't disappear just because one vote is lost - and for those of us whose priority is to change the systems under which we are misgoverned it may well be that the time has come to migrate away from party politics into a clearly-defined progressive project which has a de minimis approach to electoral orgranisation but which tries to set out a navigable but speedy route to genuine change - supporting individual politicians and groups where appropriate but countering the simplistic disinformation and scaremongering that led to the defeat of incrementalism. 

Major reform is off the legislative agenda (at least until the next GB election) but there will be many issues that push it back onto the radar. Scotland's resounding vote for the SNP may not translate into support for independence at a referendum, but the constitutional set-up would be fundamentally challenged by this, and the possibility that the non-Tory majority in England are permanently disenfranchised needs to be fought at all costs.  Were the largest party Liberal or Labour the same logic would apply - before I'm accused of simple knee-jerk tribalism.  The hi-jacking of the unelected Lords and other less well-known Tory tactics need to be exposed.

Clegg and the Liberal Demorats in government need to be clear that they are there for the purposes they set out: dealing with economic policy and taming the excesses of the headbanging rightists.  There is no further "project" for them.  They have compromised to the extent where they have nearly sold out on the reformers' instincts, and they must make clear that they back the wider changes necessary to reform politics and economics.

And now I shall take a vow of silence on the subject for a few days; if I post anything else over the next week it will focus on the malodorous trashing of public services and the doublespeak we're having to put up with there.

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