Making the coalition work, seeking electoral reform

In  Self-denying … and self-defeating I offered some alternative readings of why the LibDems seemed to be willing to concede so much ground to the Tories, and what the consequences might be for the chances of success in the AV vote.

In response to the version posted over at Liberal Democrat Voice a further possible reading of the situation was offered. Nick Clegg’s overriding priority is to demonstrate that coalition government can work. The aim is to show that coalition can deliver strong, pluralist government with a clear sense of direction, rather than being dysfunctional and expending much energy on bickering and in-fighting. This will demonstrate to the electorate that they can safely vote yes in an AV referendum without fear of a paralysis of leadership. I’ve been thinking about this. If true, then it suggests to me that Clegg is playing the game at a level of subtlety that will escape many people. I would argue that it is still self-defeating.

Yes, this approach offers the possibly of demonstrating, contrary to conventional wisdom, that it is possible for hung parliaments to deliver strong government with limited apparent dissent and in-fighting. But it appears that it can only do so as long as one of the parties does not seek to stand up too strongly for its principles or to defend too vigorously key elements of the policy platform upon which it was elected.

But in the case of the current government this approach has just delivered large dollops of the sort of stigmatising and victimising agenda that few, apart from the minority of real right wing headbangers, can support with a clear conscience.

I fully support the move away from FPTP to some more proportional system. But it seems to me that few voters are going to support electoral reform for the sake of a system that is “better” in the abstract while discounting the evidence in front of them of what sort of incoherent nastiness coalition government can deliver.

The more I think about it the more it seems to me that the obstacles to electoral reform presented by the current economic context mean that it may have been an unachievable objective right from the start. Even if the current government had been a coalition with Labour and was seeking AV or PR (a very big if, of course) on the back of the less drastic programme of cuts Labour had committed themselves to, it may well have been so negatively received that the AV vote would still have been scuppered.

I hope I’m wrong. But I fear that the cause of electoral reform is already lost, even were the Lib Dems to start to be much more robust in spelling out the (positive and restraining) influence they have had on the coalition agenda. If that is the case then Lib Dems will be looking long and hard at whether the coalition with the Tories has been worth the political, social and economic cost.

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