Monday, 27 May 2013

Adonis may just have got Clegg and Laws nailed

I have skimmed through Lord Adonis's book on the formation of our Coalition government.  Removing the self-justification and the rose-tinted view of the Labour proposition that might have been on the table, there is at least one insight that seems credible - the temperamental collision between the Orange Book Liberals and the "modernisers" coalesced around Cameron.

Adonis seems to forget that the inconclusive result of the 2010 election had led to a reasonably comprehensive kicking for the Labour Party, and that the big beasts of the unreconstructed statist Labour right (who I blogged about yesterday) were in no mood for compromise.  Yet he puts a persuasive case for the possibility of a minority Lab-Lib administration that might have been difficult to derail in the Commons if only because there would have been no interest from the Nationalists or the Northern Irish parties in voting it down to let in the Tories.

Clegg, Laws and Alexander in particular have given the impression that they do not find it very difficult to do business with the Tories.  The constant refrain has been to keep dissent within the Liberal wing of their party to a minimum, preferring instead to concentrate on the common ground that formed the basis for the Coalition Agreement.  This demonstrates the disingenuous and, in my view, suicidally naive attitude that the Liberal Democrat leadership has demonstrated until it has been too late to disentangle them from their hapless, and apparently doomed, cohorts around the Tory Notting Hill set.

Lord Adonis is correct in his analysis that there was a predisposition to engage with the Tories - who were ahead on both seats and votes compared to Labour.  This was in line with the pre-election view that the first party to do business with would have to be the largest one - and, whether or not it was right in retrospect, the Tories did engage seriously.  There was no dissent from their front bench (John Reid and David Blunkett could have taken note) and the agreement was reasonable given the relative strength of the parties.

The suicidally-naive position taken by the Orange Bookers was to assume that this meant the Tories would either be in a position to deliver or would be able to behave honourably.  With a party steeped in history, they should have been prepared to call on experience and the wiliness of those who have survived in the wilderness for all their political careers.  Instead, there was a revolting consummation and coalescence that did nothing other than give the right satisfaction that they had a bunch of naive little hostages, able to be blamed, duped and patronised whenever necessary.  What was more startling is that they appeared to enjoy this.

The 2015 election will be much less predictable than 2010, and there need to be clear markers put down by all parties in advance as to how they will respond to a distorted and perverse electoral system that could deliver majorities on very small percentages of the vote or create further distortions where there are four-way contests.  Clegg owes it to both his own followers and to other parties to make it clear how he would respond if he both keeps his seat and is in a position to move the politics forward.

Adonis's glossing of Labour's failings should also encourage Miliband to consider carefully how the next two years pan out.  With the Scottish and Welsh dimension, as well as the disruptive influence of UKIP, he has to play a careful game that does not risk completely alienating those whose position is defined as centre or centre-left, and who have no real truck with tribalism.  There will be even more at stake, and it is not yet clear that Labour have got out of their defeatist, mono-cultural mindset.

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