It was the evening of May 6th 2010 and after a long campaign season BUCF were held up in a suite in the Radisson hotel anxiously (and drunkenly) awaiting the results of the General Election. As the night progressed it became clearer and clearer that Britain was to have its first Hung Parliament since the 1970’s, but even if we didn’t achieve that outright majority it had clearly been a very good night for the Conservatives and a very bad one for Labour. As dawn broke and the result became more certain it is fair to say there was slight disappointment amongst our ranks at the fact that Cameron’s Conservatives hadn’t managed to win an outright majority, but that disappointment was largely tempered by the fact that whilst the answer to the question of who would form the next government was far from certain one thing was certain; Labour had lost what little credibility it had left and were well and truly on the ropes.
The electorate’s verdict on the Labour Party was clear; they lost over 100 seats in parliament and over 5 million votes since their landslide victory in 1997, which by any standards is a huge defeat. The verdict on the Conservatives however wasn’t as conclusive. They had “won” the election but not necessarily the automatic right to govern. As the most humble student of politics is aware the winner of the popular vote and the party with the most seats is not automatically granted the right to govern. In the event of a hung parliament it is the minor parties that hold the balance of power and in the aftermath of the 2010 election it was Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats that were to play the role of Kingmaker.
As we all know after days of deliberation, deals and debates Nick Clegg finally decided that David Cameron, having won the popular vote and the largest number of seats in parliament, had the moral right to become the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Since that day Clegg has faced countless charges from all sides of deception and deceit, selling out on core Liberal values (I didn’t know they had any?) and capitulating to the Conservatives purely in the pursuit of power. The conspiracy theorists will always scream and shout foul play when they don’t like the outcome of a situation, but the fact is Clegg did the only thing he could do. It was his moral obligation to provide strong and stable government in the aftermath of a technically inconclusive election result and any suggestion that he could have turned to Labour is preposterous.
How in all reality could he have propped up a government that had lost the General Election both in terms of seats and popular votes and had been so roundly rejected by the electorate? How could he prop up the old government when he had campaigned on a platform of renewal and change? To go in to coalition with a broken Brown and battered Labour would never have been tolerated by the public. So in the interests of the nation and stable government Cameron and Clegg came together and compromised. What irritates me immensely and has compelled me to write this blog is just how pathetic some Liberal Democrats are behaving this week at their annual party conference. They are acting with such arrogance and ignorance in thinking they had any right for their policy platform to share equal precedence with the Conservatives’ as the negotiators debated “terms and conditions” of the Coalition.
The fact is the Liberals lost seats at the last general election not gained them. They regularly bemoan the loss of support in the polls and they, and incidentally Labour, cite it as evidence that the public has turned on Clegg, but the fact is that “support” in the polls was nothing more than a pre election mirage after confident performances in the election debates from Nick Clegg, but those polls never communicated in to reality in the actual election result. The Liberals have always been the third party of British politics, a protest vote against the two major parties, and this has always been reflected in the polls. The Liberals are indeed the largest of the minor parties but they are a minor party none the less and thus it is entirely right and proper that they and their policies be afforded “minor” status in the Coalition.
As time has passed I have been hugely impressed with Nick Clegg and the commitment and common sense he has brought to the coalition. He has managed to put his party in a position where their policies are given a real and fair hearing, something they could never have done in temporary partnership with Labour. He did what any sensible leader of the Liberal Democrats would have done and put aside personal differences in order to ensure his party and its policies got the best deal and the best hearing. However unfortunately for Clegg it is becoming increasingly apparent that he is a head of a party whose members would rather bitch and moan on the political periphery rather than have a chance of putting any of their policies in to practise. Clegg knew, as any pragmatic politician always does, that in order to put one’s principles into practice one has to get into a position to do so. The Liberals are in that position now and rather than undermining their leader and condemning the coalition before it has had a chance to do anything, they should be rallying behind it and hoping to god it works out because if it doesn’t it is their heads on the chopping block too and they will have only themselves to blame.
Fortune favours the brave its about time the Liberal Democrats followed their leaders example and showed some bravery maybe then they will be taken seriously as a real force in British politics, if not they will back in the position of being the ignored and irrelevant third party of British politics.