Outside the marginals

a commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010 & 2015 elections

Disillusioned and still Disenfranchised

What a surprise, the forces of conservatism have won.

The fact that I have not posted for months underlines how I feel about UK politics – I just cannot see the situation changing other than the possible break up of the Union.

The Liberals have comprehensively miss-played their hand:

  • Going into coalition was, in Sir Humphrey Speak. “very brave”
  • They sold out to support Tory economic policies with very little in compensation
  • They mismanaged the “no mandate” issue – comprehensively.  When has any government had a popular mandate (i.e the majority support of the people?).
  • They have therefore made themselves the lightning conductor for all discontent
  • They have failed to demonstrate that they are a “restraining hand”.

They have now been stuffed – and they could have seen this coming:

  • Council Elections were always going to be difficult for a “Government party” during tough times
  • A referendum on a “miserable little compromise” was always going to be lost.  (Forget issues of timing and the toxicity of Clegg, this was an idea that no one apart from a few in the Labour party supported)

So they have shot their bolt, lost masses of councillors (and MSPs) and will now be a lame duck part of the administration with many of their activists disillusioned and having seen any chance of electoral reform kicked into the long grass for a decade or more.  Many activists will be wondering why continue to struggle? It will only take up time (and money) and return heartache.

So are we (at least in England) going back to essentially two-party politics?  The Liberal brand is compromised – and changing the leader will not cleanse it; that will just contaminate another politician.  We are stuck with the corrupt First Pass The Post voting system for at least three (four, five, or more?) elections and with the main third-party tainted with labels like “Fib-dems”, we can expect to see Labour regain heartlands from the Liberals and the Cons do the same in the South.  The next election will be a blood-bath for the Liberals:

  • If the election is precipitated by the Liberals pulling out of the coalition in the short-term (i.e. cutting and running), they will get hammered for imposing so much pain for no benefit.
  • If the stick it out until 2015, when it is quite clear that their supporters from last year do not approve of what they have done,  Labour will run with a “You can’t trust the Liberals” or “If you want a Tory vote for the real thing” line. The Conservatives will either be fighting for their own lives if the economy has not turned around (and they can fight really “nasty” in such circumstances), or they will take all the glory if the economy has turned round – after all it is the Tory economic manifesto that is being implemented.

In some situations the logical thing for the Liberals to do would be to split into:

  • an “Orange Book” Whig Party consisting of some of the current ministers and a few supporters in the country, which can stay in coalition with the Conservatives (and possibly – holding their noses – later merge with them to avoid being annihilated by the conservative supported electoral system),
  • a “Social Democratic” Liberal Democratic party consisting of many of their Commons back-benchers and most of their supporters in the country – and be annihilated by Labour and the current electoral system.
  • a green anti-corporatist rump to merge with either the Green party (if they will have them) or the old rump “Liberal Party” – to indulge in local pavement politics.

The impact of this is not good for the country.

  • A return to Labour Conservative see-saw politics
  • Labour and Conservatives no longer having to appeal to a substantial floating “middle ground” vote, will be freer to be more extreme
  • Labour will “represent” the North, and the Conservatives will “represent” the South – God help us.
  • The Scots may well vote for independence; irrespective of whether that is “good” for “the country”, it will be highly disruptive.

Long term, losing Scotland may make England (and Wales and Northern Ireland?) give up its “world leader” role; this could free up resources currently given to defence and foreign affairs, and make us less of a terrorist target – but who wants to live in a probably permanently Conservative second rank European country?  A Social Democratic Scotland with a more consensual political system could be attractive.  Anyone want to redraw the boundary – say around the old boundary of Hadrian’s Wall and save Northumberland at least?

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