Thursday, 29 July 2010

The Worst of All Worlds

Nick Robinson's Five Days That Changed Britain was not the revelation-fest BBC trailers led us to believe. Predictably, it turned out to be a mix of banalities and stories that have been around the media block. I don't know what readers thought, but I was almost knocked out my chair to discover Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown "didn't get on". And my jaw hit the floor when it was revealed David Cameron thought Clegg was someone he could do business with.

Okay, I'm being a bit facetious. But I did come away with the impression the real story of the post-election negotiations between Labour, the Tories and LibDems is yet to be told.

For the LibDems, ultimately a deal with Labour couldn't be done because of Gordon: the real reason, it turned out, had more to do with Clegg's volte-face over spending cuts. The official ConDem narrative claims the LibDems changed their minds once they saw the books. In fact, as Clegg says in his interview, he had changed his mind because of the Eurozone's sovereign debt crisis. Curiously, he couldn't bring himself to mention this while the campaigning was in full swing, making his attacks on the Tories particularly hypocritical.

I was of the view the best we could have hoped for in the election, given Labour's standing in the polls, was a coalition with the LibDems. That didn't preclude Labour fighting to win. In fact, given the balance of political forces, every single vote would have strengthened its hand in any negotiated settlement. Neither was it a result I desired. But it was a sober assessment eventually borne out by the election results. So what
did come as a genuine surprise was how little prepared the Labour leadership were. In his interview, Peter Mandelson said Cameron's public offer to the LibDems was met with genuine bemusement and scepticism by Brown and the rest of his team (the Dark Lord had already divined a coalition between the two was more than possible, of course). If this is true, if they did expect the LibDems to spur the Tories' advances, why weren't the leadership already preparing for serious negotiations? Asking Ed Balls and Mandelson about their first meeting with the LibDems, their admission that there was no briefing document or even a discussion beforehand damns Brown's team as criminally complacent.

It seems the prospect of a deal was more or less fluffed by Labour before negotiations begun. But it was not all the Brownites' fault. At the second formal meeting between the two parties, the LibDems dropped Clegg's cuts bombshell, a position all wings of Labour would have found unacceptable. In truth, while the voters on May 6th didn't know it (nor, for that matter, the vast majority of LibDems), the yellow party's policies were already in alignment with the Tories.

A rather softer portrait of the Tories emerges from the documentary. Apparently Cameron had originally decided to go for a minority government if the Conservatives had won over 300 seats but were short of a majority. But then, we're told he woke up on the Friday morning thinking "a coalition [with the LibDems] seemed the right thing to do." In other words, the coalition began life as a whim. This explanation of its origins were reinforced by William Hague's contribution - he said apart from some idle musing before the election, no one thought about forming a coalition. I know the Tories are not-so-affectionately known as the Stupid Party, but surely there was some hard political calculation going on.

Returning to the LibDems, Clegg, David Lyons,
et al. all emphasised how accommodating they found the Conservatives. Reporting on conversations with his party's negotiators, Paddy Ashdown said they were amazed at the speed Tories were conceding key points on their brief. He paraphrased their positions as "Would you like this? We've been trying to get rid of this for some time." More evidence Cameron calculated a tie-up with the LibDems would marginalise the moonbats on the hard Tory right. What I'd like to know is just what they conceded (apart from the AV referendum) considering the coalition's programme is barely distinguishable from the Tory manifesto.

We know the rest. The Tories and LibDems tied the knot and their grotesque offspring weren't slow to materialise. They have set about dismantling what remains of the welfare state. The cold dead hands of neoliberal dogma is driving economic policy. And Nick Clegg is overseeing the sorts of constitutional gerrymandering he would have roundly denounced in the past. Of course, the Tories were always going to do this. But as Andrew Adonis points out in his interview, the LibDems
chose to align themselves with a right wing agenda. So much for social liberalism.

One thing Ashdown says in
Five Days That Changed Britain stands out. On the hung parliament result, he said "The electorate had invented an excruciating instrument of torture for the LibDems." Going by the policies they are now promoting, you could say they're returning the favour.


Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

Speaking of worst and off topic but how are you coming along with the blog poll, utterly fascinated to see the results.

Phil said...

The poll's coming on. I can't possible let you know how, I wonder want to unduly influence the results :P

It could do with more people voting so if you want to plug it, feel free. I don't want less people turning out than will vote LibDem at the next election!

Boffy said...


I wasn't at all surprised about the Liberals joining the Tories. I'd been blogging about that for several weeks beforehand. No one should have been fooled about what the Liberals were and are. A llok at all their Council Coalitions with the worst kinds of backwoods Tories showed that long before, and anyone who read the "Orange Book" new exactly what the real ideology was.

The problem is that much of the Left operates on a basis of "My Enemy's Enemy Is MY Friend", and so all those on the "Left" not already attached to one of the sects - and even some who are - having decided that they could not cope with the backwardness of all those crude workers in the LP were all too keen to allow themselves to be deluded that there was something progressive about the Liberals, or Greens who pushed all the right buttons at a superficial level on all of those radical Liberal issues that the petit-bourgeois is concerned with.

But, the reality of the experience of Liberals and Greens in Council chambers up and down the country and in Governments elsewhere in Europe, is that you can talk a good fuck about anti-racism, environmentalism, anti-imperialism etc. and still be a reactionary when it comes to class issues.