The Case for Keeping Clegg (Even in Opposition)

Unless something dramatic happens between now and election day it appears as if we are in for a hung parliament. Unlike the previous one, there will be no obvious match between the parties; a right-of-centre coalition of the type we have enjoyed/endured (delete as applicable) will be difficult to achieve given the culling of Lib Dem seats. What is more likely is either a grand coalition of the left, or a minority Labour government lurching from vote to vote on the goodwill of SNP, Plaid, Green and Lib Dem votes.

Whichever way the election goes, leaders that are not deemed winners are for the chop. The Tories are sharpening their knives ready to take out Cameron, a dethroning they have been dreaming of for years. They held back from realising this desire due to the delusion that he could easily defeat Miliband and Cameron’s failure to do so has made Miliband’s position stronger than it was a month or so ago. However, a last minute swing to the Conservatives could set back the recent good-will Miliband’s garnered within his party, and if the Tories managed to form a government he too would be finished. Even the smaller party leaders such as Farage and Bennett face potential peril. Both have enjoyed an almost perfect scenario for minor parties to have any hope of breaking through in the First-Past-The-Post system. If they fail to capitalise, questions will be asked as to how they were allowed to blow it.

But the most likely to fall is the most hated man in British politics Nick Clegg. Since going into coalition with their arch-enemy, the party’s ratings have plummeted. Estimates range between the Lib-Dems returning 20 and 30 seats (down from 56) though Lib Dems usually face an election day slump as voters flee back to the safety of the two main parties, in which case they may sink lower than that. With as few as 25 MPs the party won’t have enough to negotiate a coalition with the Conservatives, nor an exclusive one with Labour. Instead they will be merely one of many small parties doing vote by vote deals.

With a reduced presence, a hammering in the polls, and a left leaning parliament, it makes sense for Clegg to go, right? Consistently he’s shown to be a drag on the Lib Dem ticket, with candidates leaving him off their election material. It would only be right for him to step down and leave the party in the hands of someone like Vince Cable or Tim Farron, both hailing from the Social-Democratic wing of the party and better placed to negotiate with Labour.

I put the alternative to you, however: this approach would be a mistake. Whilst ditching Clegg would give the Lib Dems quick east boost in the opinion polls, a long term strategy might be worth considering:

If Miliband makes it into Number 10, Cameron is bound to resign his party’s leadership. Similarly, other familiar faces of the current campaign may also vanish; if Farage fails to win his seat, he may well resign leadership and hand over the reins to Douglas Carswell; if the Greens fail to take anything other than Brighton Pavilion they might turn back to the eminently more media-savvy Caroline Lucas.

These fresh faces (in terms of leadership – not actual freshness) would be in for a bumpy parliament. Whether successful or not, a grand informal coalition of the left would soon turn bitter as each side struggles for influence. The public are unlikely to support it for long.

Which brings us back to the question of Nick Clegg’s fate. In such a tumultuous parliament a party leader well-known to the public and experienced in government will be of the upmost importance. With Cameron gone, Clegg would represent and speak up for the previous government. Right now this suggestion would be the last thing the party membership would like, but after a year or so of failed votes and indecisive leadership the memory of the Liberal-Conservative coalition might well be a vote winner. Clegg reminding the public of economic growth and stability might well work, whereas Tim Farron, known only to political junkies, won’t even get the air-time.

Eventually Clegg will need to go, but to dump him unceremoniously in the wake of a bad election result would be for the party to run to the left and turn its back on what it has managed to achieve in government. Like it or not, the Lib Dems have become a centrist party, not a party of the hard-left. It can keep Clegg and remain the sensible voice of the centre or they can go into a full-blown rout. I fear to do the latter would mean that when the public grow tired of Labour’s minority they wouldn’t have the Lib Dems to turn to for stable pragmatic government; instead they will identify them with haphazard left-wing bartering, or worse, something not worth considering at all.

Yummy Polls

It has been a while since we’ve discussed politics and my secret love: opinion polls. Yes, those dreary meaningless statistics that bear little relation to the real world are the small skirmishes between the battles and one such battle is approaching – Thursday’s local elections. Yesterday’s ComRes poll has the Conservatives on 32%, Labour 38%, UKIP 13% and Liberal Democrats trailing with 9%, but of course that is nationally and the elections that are taking place will not be fought under proportional representation. No indeed, these elections are going to be decided with good ole fashioned utterly bonkers first-past-the-post.

As a believer in electoral reform I should be shaking my head in disgust at how skewed the results on Thursday are likely to be, but there is a certain element of chickens coming home to roost, as it is the Conservatives who are about to taste a mouthful of feathers from the upstart right wing UKIP. The left has spent at least three decades being split and now it is the turn of the right. Even though support for right wing policies are on the rise (euro-scepticism, anti-immigration), having the vote split between two parties will help the liberals and labour parties in areas that they are consolidated enough not to bring down each other, a problem they and their supporters have grown accustomed to through years of bloody battles.

So ironically the Lib Dems best hope is Farage, and right now they should be delivering UKIP’s leaflets as well as their own. The more the Conservatives pull to the right to steal UKIP votes, the more sensible conservatives will flock to centrist Liberal Democrats, and the more to the left the Tories pull to defeat Lib Dems, the more they will lose to UKIP.

The only party that seems excluded from all this fun is Labour, who are still stuck with the same share of the vote they have had for ages with little impetus either way. Ed Miliband has been accused of turning his party into the party of protest (simply saying boo to cuts without giving any solution) but if that was his aim the plan backfired. No one wants to register their protest vote with Labour.

And then there’s the Greens who somehow, in a time of global warming, widespread disaffection with politics and grossly unpopular cuts, have managed to make themselves entirely irrelevant.

Eastleigh by-election, 2013 Tactical Voting Crib Sheet

Long ago (2011), some concerned citizens got together and tried to change the way we elect our politicians here in the UK. We wanted to switch from the fatally flawed First Past The Post to a more healthy Alternative Vote system in which voters would be free to vote for the candidate that best represented their beliefs.

Alas, it was not to be. So rather than voting because of agreeing with candidates, the voters of Eastleigh will once again be voting based upon whom they hate the most. So, to aid in their bile, I have put together a simple voting crib sheet to help them work out how to really stick it to Miliband/Cameron/Clegg.

Hate: Liberal Democrats (Nick Clegg)
Vote: Labour (John O’Farrell)

Why: Eastleigh is a Lib Dem/Conservative marginal. This means that other parties are unlikely to win and thus the electorate should tactically vote depending upon who they dislike the most out of these two candidates. Voting for Labour would drain the Liberal Democrat vote, sending a message to Nick Clegg that his party has been rejected by the left. Don’t fear, the conservative vote will hold up and the liberal democrats will lose, hitting those pesky lib dems with a double whammy – they lose the seat, and face a resurgent labour party. Clegg will be crying in his soup before the day is out.

Hate: Labour (Ed Miliband)
Vote: Conservative (Maria Hutchings)

Why: If Labour can’t make inroads in the south (even with a charismatic candidate like John O’Farrell), then they have no hope of winning the general election. A victorious conservative party would prove that the electorate was supporting the austerity cuts and all of Ed Balls’ whining was pure poppycock. Osborne would be able to stand up in the commons and say, “Hey, turns out people LOVE cuts. Eat that, Miliband!” Ed will be crying in his porridge before the day is out.

Hate: Conservatives (David Cameron)
Vote: Liberal Democrat (Mike Thornton)

Why: The conservative party have managed to convince themselves that the reason for their poor poll ratings is that they are being watered down by those pesky liberals. When people say, “Boo! No to cuts!” What those Tory back-benchers hear is, “Boo! No to weak-and-restricted- not-going-far-enough cuts!” A victory to their coalition partner (and arch-nemesis) would shut them up good and proper. Why vote Lib Dem rather than Labour? A victory/swing to the Labour party will be dismissed as merely the natural process of a by-election. The Labour party is bound to harvest votes as it is in opposition. Voting Lib Dem sends a strong message it is Conservatives, not government, that is being rejected. Cameron will be sneezing on his eggs benedict before the day is done.

So there you have it, tactical voting in a nutshell. Cynical? That’s First Past The Post for you.

And Blank It Shall Stay!

Bob Ainsworth, a Home Office Minister under Tony Blair, has called for a debate to be held on alternatives to prohibition. Appearing on The Daily Politics he talked candidly about his time in office; how he could only move policy slightly in the direction he wanted, regrettably being unable to voice his true views due to his party’s fear of media fury.

Once again we see that time and time again politicians are presented with the facts, only to turn away into ignorance out of fear of being crushed under the weight of public hostility.

Already the knives are being sharpened for poor Bob Ainsworth, who is showing considerable courage to put his hand up and say that he wasn’t doing his job properly and a new system of legalisation needs to be put in place. The Labour party has already distanced itself from him, branding Ainsworth as ‘irresponsible’. It seems Ed Miliband’s blank sheet of paper doesn’t extend to drugs policy.

It’s a pity for Labour, because adopting radical solutions to today’s problems could re-energise the party once more. Sadly Miliband doesn’t want to be brought into office on a wave of hope, but of anger, so instead of debating real issues he’ll continue exploiting peoples fears. How very sad.

Good for you Bob Ainsworth! If more of your party was like you then the Coalition really would be in danger. As it is, I fear your head is for the chop, like so many before you.