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Coalition or chaos – it’s your call, Nick

March 2nd, 2010 Posted in UK Politics by

gordon-brown-0011So now its a real fight. Who do we choose? On my left I give you the bullying, bullshitting, bad tempered – bad man of politics – GORDON BROWN. He who wants to be judged on his moral compass yet surrounds himself with unpleasant characters who intimidate and smear his political opponents, from whatever party, at every turn. He who talked up “Prudence” whilst on the biggest spending binge ever, who raided pension funds, sold our gold at its lowest level for years and who invested more of his time and effort undermining the then Prime Minister, than he did keeping watch on the finances of this country. Hmmm.

On my right I give you the smiling snake oil salesman -the suave, the slick – DAVID CAMERON.david-cameron1Yes the one with the airbrushed photos and dyed hair who beams benignly and promises his party has changed but who cannot be pinned down on anything of any substance. Who talks about being liberal and wanting government with ” a lighter touch” but then brings the full force of his party heavyweights down on his own party regional offices if they dare defy him. The man who has talked such a lot – delivered polished speeches to perfection…and yet said so very little. A man who surrounds himself with friends in Notting Hill kitchens (Coulson, Ashcroft, Osborne and co) no matter how dubious their actions, history or levels of competence best that can be said of him is that he is not Brown – the worst that he is another Tony Blair. Been there done that.

Added to this we have seen what happens when one party wields total power – with a huge majority. The party whips rule; minsters all powerful; bright intelligent MPs sidelined because they challenge the leadership; loyal and dimwitted MPs more likely to end up in the cabinet; debate stifled; decisions taken behind closed doors with little or no scrutiny; laws rammed through.

Why would you want either of those leaders in power? Why would you want either party to win a landslide election when we have felt the pain that they bring, one too many times ? No wonder people are confused. No wonder the polls are erractic.  No wonder, people are talking …correction.. welcoming… the prospect of a hung parliament. None of the other checks and balances have worked. Maybe this one will.

BUT!  The prospect of a hung parliament – without a clear view about what that will mean for the finances of the country – is going to send the markets into tail spin. Why? Because they assume that we will end up with a fudged government with no power to make the cuts necessary, fighting day to day to get each tiny bit of legislation through, and almost certainly resulting in another election within twelve months. What the markets want is certainty and that is not what it looks like.

Of course at the moment we don’t have a single party willing to be honest with us about the economy – the severity of cuts necessary. We all know we are being lied to. And every day our debt gets bigger. So it could be argued that it is not clear that any party will do what is needed.

So we are standing on the brink of disaster. Nick, its time to bring some honesty and forthrightness to the debate. Specifically on (1) the economy and (2) what you will actually do if there is a hung parliament.

1. THE ECONOMY : Be honest about the level of the cuts necessary. Vince Cable is the most trusted politician there is on financial matters. He was the lone voice of caution in the boom years. Yes he was derided by both Tories and Labour (and the media) when he told us bust was waiting round the corner. But he was also proven right. So where is he now? We seem to be arguing about the small stuff . Is it green enough, are we too reliant on banks. Maybe, maybe. But can talk about that when we have an economy worth squabbling about? Where is that beacon of light – that honesty now when we need it ? Show us the real Vince. Show us the real plan – not the sanitised one.  

2. HUNG PARLIAMENT: If we were in “the boom years” Nick, you could fudge what the Liberals would do in the event of a hung parliament. If Britain had cash sloshing around in our coffers, if we had a strong £, if we had shrinking unemployment, if we had financial institutions that were lining up to invest in Britain, if our AAA rating was not hanging in the balance yes then Nick, you could get away with it. And it would probably be the right strategy. The dangers of speaking out are immense and caution might be wise.

But country is not in that position. This country is in dire financial straits. The £ is stuttering at the news of the possibility of a hung parliament. Don’t play politics with our lives and livelihoods.

This country needs a strong Lib Dem party to tell us where it stands. Not a sit on the fence – play it safe – we haven’t planned for hypothetical situations – Lib Dem party. (What ? you only make your plans AFTER the event?). We need a bold and brave – forget the past – lets start a new period of politics- tell it how it is – get the country out of this mess  Lib Dem party. 

At the moment no one is at all clear what “working with” the party with a “mandate from the voters” means. Not me. Not the voters. Not the markets. Stop talking Westminster speak and tell us what you mean. Coalition or not?  The Guardian says you are planning to rule out coalition “because aides and senior MPs argue it would be highly dangerous for the Liberal Democrats to become minority partners in a coalition government”.

That would seem to suggest that , in the event that no party gets an outright majority, you allow either party to pass a Queen’s speech if it makes some concessions to your four prioirities (fair tax, investment in education, a rebalanced economy, political reform).

But whispering tit bits to the Guardian is not the same as telling it straight. OK you’ve let the Queen’s speech go through… Will you abstain or vote through the budget ? Shove in loads of amendments to make it more to your liking? How will you vote the next week or the week after that? Will a weak minority Government lurch from one deal to another as you stand by mildly and meekly watching sterling plummet, and the stock market nosedive? Is Vince Cable destined to spend the next 12 months commentating on the news or making the news?

The country goes to the wall because some of your aides and MPs care more about their political careers than the state of the nation? Maybe they just dont like the idea of actually being in power.

Or perhaps it’s that you can’t go into coalition. With all the will in the world you dont have the power to make that decision? The BBC reports that you “would have to get a formal coalition deal past (your) members” . If true then change the rules at next week’s conference. Tell them you can’t run a party on that basis right now. 

Cowardly or castrated. Which is it ?

The madness is, from what I have seen, you are neither. You started slowly (not a bad thing) but it looks for all the world that you are just hitting your stride. Perfect timing. You have the honesty, integrity and personal belief to make a difference. To change politics. So what’s stoppping you?

You will be dogged by these questions and many others of a similar vein over the coming weeks. Constant reference to a 4 point plan is not going to cut it with the voters, with the media or with the markets. Come on Nick. Step up to plate. The Liberals have to piss or get off the pot. If we are not prepared to take up coalition – to take up the reins of power when the country needs it most (now) then we don’t deserve to be the third party. 

I think I am right in saying that both you and Vince have said publicly that the country’s plight is more important than petty party politics. Prove that you mean that. Give us some honesty. Show us your mettle. I think if you will do that, you will win the hearts and minds of this country. Hell, maybe even save it.

8 Responses to “Coalition or chaos – it’s your call, Nick”

  1. Gandhi Says:

    A competent Lib Dem leader would be jumping up and down right now shouting and screaming about civil liberties, AND PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION! Surely the traditional response for the Lib Dems would be coalition if – and only if – we get full PR. The Lib Dems have had their best chance of breaking through, they’re never going to get more luck than they’ve had – and squandered – in the the past few years; there’s just one thing they might be useful for, and that’s forcing through electoral reform, after which they needn’t continue to exist, certainly not in the same form.

    Nick Clegg should not worry about the future of the Lib Dems, he should be prepared to martyr the them in the name of democracy.

    Said the democracy sceptic.

  2. Hywel Says:

    There is no single “hung parliament” scenario – you could have anything from Labour one seat short to the Tories one seat short – and a near infinite set of combinations depending on third party strength (eg one party 30 seats short is different with 30 Lib Dems to the scenarion with 70).

    So its not just one answer we need its three, or nine or 14 depending on how things turn out.

  3. Geoff Payne Says:

    It is not up to Nick Clegg to decide the formation of the next government. We do not know how the electorate intend to vote, and we do not know what the other political parties are prepared to agree upon with us.
    It is entirely wrong to put the spotlight on Nick.
    I think he should attempt to negotiate a coalition government. However he must have a red line beyond which he is not prepared to go.
    When David Steel was leader of the Liberal party he was a pushover during the Lib Lab pact.
    We must insist of proportional representation. In all honesty we should also insist on the resignation of Gordan Brown (if we are talking to Labour) as he has shown he is not a team player.
    We should insist on not going ahead with ID cards, and not replacing Trident. Not only are they the right policies, they will save taxpayer’s money as well.
    We must restructure the banks and we should agree a radical Green agenda to cut down carbon emmissions.
    We must ensure public spending cuts, when they come, do not penalise the poor.

  4. Niklas Smith Says:

    I agree that we should set out in more detail what we would do to restore public finances – to do this we can build on the proposals Vince Cable made in his pamphlet for Reform.

    But I don’t see the logic to saying we need to promise to go into coalition with anybody. On the contrary, by binding ourselves to (for example) go into coalition with whoever gets the most seats means we lose almost all bargaining power.

    Instead we should simply say this: in the even of no overall majority, we would push for the four key priorities Nick Clegg has already been banging on about, working with other parties on an issue-by-issue basis if that works best. On the economy we should offer to agree on the budget with a minority government provided they let Vince have some influence on its content (i.e. promise confidence and supply, but nothing else).

    As Martin Wolf has argued, the danger a hung parliament poses to the pound and to gilts is overrated – especially if a hung parliament means Vince gets more influence in economic policy, since he (unlike George Osborne) is widely respected by the City.

  5. Psi Says:

    I agree committing in to coalition would be wrong. Personally I think committing to NOT enter coalition would be better, if there is not majority from the electorate there should be a minority administration, it has been made to work in Scotland.

    The top priority would be to getting a commitment to fixed term parliaments (with some mechanism to dissolve early if that is what is required) as that is the only way anyone can collaborate in agreeing hard decisions (cuts & tax rises) without the risk of having the PM of the day (as a Minority Administration or Coalition) stab them in the back by calling an election because the polls have swung their way (Wilson ’74).

    A commitment from the Lib Dems to pursue deficit reduction along with the safety mechanisms of a fixed term parliament would allow the markets to have confidence.

    I think that Angela is falling in to the same trap as many Lib Dems, thinking the rest of the voting population pay enough attention to make Vince the most trusted Politician on the economy. I agree he should be but I’m not convinced that he is. To be fair Ken Clark also made the odd mention but not sufficiently often or loudly to be worth crediting.

  6. Ziggy Says:

    Rather then speculating about hypothetical situations why aren’t LV opposing the Lib Dem peer proposing greater internet censorship?

  7. Jack Says:

    @Ziggy, maybe because what LDs do in a hung parliament scenario (which seems very likely to arise) is of critical importance for the party and the nation, and the actions and opinions of one Lib Dem peer are unlikely to affect anything ever.

    Personally, I have an extremely high bar in terms of what either of the other parties would have to offer us to make a coalition acceptable. I have a strong desire to see Labour punished for the disgraceful way they have ruined this country during their tenure, and do not want to be part of their rescue team. On the other hand I think the Tories believe they are too close to power to entertain the idea of compromising anything like as much as we would demand.

    The point about honesty is valid though. We should act now to tell the nation that savage cuts are not just inevitable, but by far the least bad option and therefore desirable, so as to help expose Labour as the economic fantasists they are and thus allow the Tories to be frank about their deficit-reduction ideas. Cable still has the political capital to do this and it would be inestimably better for the country over the coming years if everyone knew the truth, rather than swimming in Gordon Brown’s disgusting bullshit.

  8. Ziggy Says:

    ‘maybe because what LDs do in a hung parliament scenario (which seems very likely to arise) is of critical importance for the party and the nation’

    the rider of the horse might change but the whip remains