Thursday, 14 April 2011

Conservatives in Coalition Do Their Own Thing

The Business Secretary Dr. Vince Cable has this morning criticised comments about to be made by the Prime Minister about the overall impact of immigration into the UK. The full story can be found here at BBC News.

There is of course a debate to be had on immigration, however the significance of this disagreement between coalition partners is that it would appear the Prime Minister is doing his own thing, without first having sought any kind of accommodation or common ground with those upon whom he depends for his continued tenure.

As somebody who has been there myself I instinctively recognise all the signs. Coalition begins with a sense of excitement on the part of all concerned, with a tangible and genuine feeling of elation and promise of great things to come. When credit is due it will be due all round, and everybody involved is entirely cool with that.

Then, after a short while, a negative mentality sets in in which the senior partner, being a major party, begins to feel resentful towards the "imposter" upon which it is compelled to depend for its continued presence in office.

Like the Labour Party, the Conservative Party instinctively believes that democracy is a process that belongs essentially to the two main parties, and that small parties and independents, although an integral and necessary part of the democratic process, are really there to maintain the charade rather than to actually wield real power.

By now the Conservative part of the coalition will be looking at its agreement with the Liberal Democrats as something to be got around rather than honoured in spirit as well as in deed. It will be scrutinising the small print to see how it can be interpreted to its own benefit, rather than troubling itself too deeply about what was actually intended when the agreement was drawn up.

The bad news for the Lib Dems is that it will get worse, as the next election approaches not only the terms but even the very existence of the coalition will be in danger of becoming completely forgotten. The Lib Dems will find themselves undermined, with progressively less co-operation from Whitehall and a gradual but sustained increase in political attacks and general mischief emanating from the national media.

And then, when Labour is returned to office with a thumping majority in 2014, the Conservatives will scratch their heads and wonder, honestly, where it all went wrong.

What can the Lib Dems do about it? The answer is really not very much. Lib Dem voters supported their party in the hope that it would be in a position to exercise some power. To decline to do so when the opportunity arises would be seen by many as a betrayal, and carries with it the risk of rendering a vote for the Liberal Democrats singularly pointless.

The option of coalition with Labour after the last general election was never a realistic one. Notwithstanding the fact that it lacked legitimacy, having acquired less votes, the Labour Party is even more sectarian than the Conservative Party and would not have been prepared to give an inch in exchange for Liberal Democrat support. When a similar situation arose locally in 2006 I don't recall having given the prospect of a coalition with Labour a second thought. It was simply assumed by us all that it was a thing that wouldn't and couldn't happen.

When looked at in this way AV begins to make perfect sense. I am hoping that the Liberal Democrats are holding out, buying time, until a different electoral system empowers them to the point where they no longer have to play the part of the poor relation in somebody else's government.

Let's just hope they are not so damaged by that time that they still have the opportunity to explain that to the electorate.

Because if their "partners" have anything to do with it, they will be.

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