Being moderate isn’t sexy. When you join an old friend for a drink, your heart doesn’t leap at the suggestion that you do so in moderation, no matter how sensible the notion may be for your knackered old liver. Films about moderates barely exist; we’d rather watch a man crying “freedom” whilst having his guts sliced out, than a diplomat negotiating a mutually beneficial treaty. Moderation has never been popular, and approaching the UK General Election 2015 we are about to see it wiped clean from the face of our political scene. It is ironic that the common perception of politics is as a homogenised battle for the centre ground. Quite the opposite, the centre has been abandoned, a no-mans land for none but those crazed and doomed liberals, shell-shocked and wandering the scorched earth wondering what the hell just happened.
Given the hopelessly outdated first-past-the-post system, the results of the oncoming election are difficult to predict. The distribution of the electorate weighs the system heavily in favour of the two main parties, but their failure to generate any good-will beyond their base, combined with growing disaffection, means that the Labour and Conservative parties have drawn in the wagons and are waging a defensive campaign. This is no longer an election either side can win; they can only lose. Factor in the rise of nationalist parties such as UKIP and the SNP and you’ve got the makings of yet another hung parliament.
Which might make you think that we’re in for another coalition, another fudge in the centre – a backroom deal cooked up by those rotters in Westminster. But as we approach the general election and the parties begin to position themselves for such an eventuality, the likelihood of a coalition becomes increasingly unlikely. The Labour party has ruled out a coalition with the SNP. The SNP has ruled out a coalition with the Conservatives. The Greens have ruled out a coalition with anyone. Ironically, the only party to talk openly about the benefits of joining a coalition are the Lib Dems, the one party for whom a formal union will be utterly untenable. Nick Clegg could only enter into another pact retaining the same degree of influence as before – a deal that neither the Tories nor Labour are likely to accept given the reduced Lib Dem numbers from the upcoming slaughter.
Most of the smaller parties, having spent five years condemning the concept of compromise, now face the prospect of governance, but to do so they must first reconcile this with their previous rhetoric. The result is lots of talk about “confidence and supply”, an utterly unsustainable position that would fall apart at the very first unpopular but necessary vote (of which the next five years is certain to be packed).
Which begs the question, what right do any of them have to rule out a coalition in the first place? An election campaign is effectively an extended job interview, and you don’t conduct yourself in an interview by listing off everyone you’d out-right refuse to work with. If you can’t grow up and find a way of working with those you oppose, then you have no right to claim you’re a supporter of democracy. Democracy, by its very nature, is about finding a way of getting all the peoples of a nation to work together rather than grind each other into dust.
But as I said, being a moderate isn’t sexy. It’s a lot easier to grab votes by saying “we will never work with those scumbags,” than “there is always a compromise to be found.” Perhaps that is why the Lib Dems continue to plummet in the polls. In a recent interview, Nick Clegg described himself as being anti-establishment and anti-populist, which is a pretty accurate description of where the Lib Dems are at this present time. They exist in an uncomfortable netherworld between the entitled comfort of governance and the demagoguery of opposition. If we are tested by another hung-parliament, it’s possible that we may look back on 2010-2015 as a golden era, a time before the storm when a party was willing to work with another despite facing electoral oblivion. Can you think of another party that would have put up with such hostility for the benefit of a stable economy? If the fortunes were reversed, and it were the Conservatives whose poll rating had dropped to single digits early on and showed no sign of recovery, would they have stuck out the full five years? Would Labour? The SNP? Right now Nick Clegg is the most hated man in British politics, but once we’ve seen the chaos that politicians are lining up to promise, we might well wish for his return (not that he’ll be in a position to do so – the moment the Lib Dems are out of government, the left leaning grass-roots will have his head).
However much you despise your opponents, you can’t erase them. This is why revolutions end in bloodshed, whilst it is compromise that produces real reform. We can spend the next five years bickering like children afraid to go near each other lest we catch the lurgey, or we can reach out like grown-ups and find a way of moving forward. But to do so we need to shake off the petulant mentality of Braveheart fantasy. It belongs in the movies, not in the ballot. And perhaps it’s best to vote for the person who suggests taking it a bit easy. The liver can only handle so much.