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Well, this election aftermath story is certainly throwing up some surprises, isn't it? I was a bit downcast about it all on Friday afternoon. I didn't think the LibDems had a strong enough hand to make electoral reform a central tenet of a coalition with either of the other parties. And if that couldn't be achieved, I couldn't really see how any of the three most likely outcomes (Con-Lib coalition, Lab-Lib coalition or Tory minority government) would ultimately do anything much else other than damage the Liberal Democrats in the long term - and hence damage the prospects of them having any serious input into the formation of government policy in the future. Like a lot of people, too, my immediate instinctive reaction to the idea of a Con-Lib coalition was "ugh!".

But I clearly underestimated Nick Clegg and his negotiating team. As nwhyte has pointed out, Clegg has personal experience of coalition negotiations. Meanwhile, obviously the Liberal Democrats as a party must have been preparing for this for decades. They must always have known that their golden opportunity would arise in a situation like this, and lo and behold here they are, ready to seize the moment. It seems very much to me as though they are leading the negotiating agenda not only in the obvious sense of being the party which gets to play the other two off against each other and make the final decision, but also in the procedural sense of showing the other two parties how it's done.

I also underestimated both of the other two parties. Just look at them both - being willing to make compromises and negotiate like adults; saying how keen they are to stabilise the country, solve the economic problems, listen to the will of the people, respect each other's decision, etc. OK, so fringe people in the media (Malcolm Rifkind, David Blunkett) are starting to say some pretty unpleasant things - but those actually doing the negotiating are a model of good behaviour. If this is the new politics, and indeed what we would get regularly under a more proportional voting system, then I like it! And now offer is following counter-offer, and it suddenly looks like at least some form of electoral reform is genuinely going to be on the agenda after all.

What will actually happen is still anyone's guess. Each day the landscape seems to change. And whatever either party is promising now, who's to say that they won't find a way to change the agenda and wriggle out of their commitments after the deal has been completed? But what's gradually sinking in for me is that I didn't need to be as disappointed about the outcome of Thursday's election as I originally thought. The Liberal Democrats may have lost seats, but thanks to the collective unwillingness of the voting public to elect either the Tories or Labour outright, and thanks to their own negotiating abilities, they suddenly have more power that ever before. Whatever happens, Liberal Democrat manifesto promises are now going make a real and meaningful contribution to government policy in the new parliament. For me, that's better than what we had before the election, and better than an outright Tory majority would have been as well. I've voted Liberal Democrat all my adult life without ever seeing that translated into direct political outcomes - and now suddenly I actually feel that my views are being represented by the political process that is going on. It's a novelty that is taking some getting used to.

Not everyone is happy with the outcome of this election, of course. Those who wanted an outright Tory majority will now be feeling annoyed because their party got the most votes and the most seats, but is still being held to 'ransom' by the party which came third. A Lab-Lib coalition will look to them like an unstable collaboration of losers, now to be headed by a prime minister whom the public hasn't (s)elected, and possibly propped up by Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish parties demanding localised protection from spending cuts as the price of their support. Those who would have preferred a Labour majority will also be feeling let down on the grounds that left-leaning voters were 'stolen' from Labour by the LibDems, thus splitting the progressive 'consensus'. A Con-Lib coalition will seem to them like a betrayal that lets a much-hated Tory party into office without an overall majority. And there's also a lot of talk about grass-roots LibDem activists reacting with horror and betrayal to a Con-Lib coalition in particular.

I've got to say that I'm not seeing any such horror and betrayal in my corner of the internet, though. miss_s_b argues that a Con-Lib coalition is worth it for Single Transferable Vote (the main thing that most LibDem supporters really want) even if it means medium-term damage to the LibDems' public standing. matgb shows that the LibDem leadership can't simply 'betray' their party. And the two of them together (see comment thread) suggest that the Tories are more likely than Labour to agree ultimately to the implementation of STV. (If anyone can tell me the right HTML for inserting proper links to people's Dreamwidth blogs in an LJ post, BTW, I'll gladly change the journal links here - I have scoured the LJ FAQ, but can't seem to find the information I need).

Personally, I'm pretty OK with Con-Lib if it's going to achieve the implementation of as many of the LibDems' key manifesto commitments as it looks like it might. It's not going to be 'Torygeddon' - that wasn't the outcome of the election, and it's not how the Tory party would be able to behave while held on a tight leash by the LibDems in the context of a formal coalition. I'm not sure Lab-Lib is as workable - but if it can be made to work, I'd be perfectly happy with that too on the same grounds. It's a pity that the particular type of electoral reform that's being talked about by both Labour and the Tories at the moment is alternative vote, when single transferable vote is a lot fairer - see innerbrat's excellent discussion for details. But that any kind of electoral reform is being seriously offered at all is amazing - never mind all the other issues surrounding the economy, taxation and education which are all clearly going to end up being resolved in ways that are much more to my taste than either the Tories or Labour could have managed alone.

Everything could still fall apart, of course, without any of us really getting anything we want - no matter what we voted for. But one thing is for sure. Between the outcome of this election, the priorities of the Liberal Democrat party, and the activities of groups such as the Take Back Parliament coalition, the issue of electoral reform has become a central part of the political discourse. People are talking about it all over the internet, and yesterday evening the BBC News channel provided a detailed outline of the differences between FPTP voting, AV and STV. It feels to me as though this issue won't just fade away again now. And that is one of the main reasons why I voted LibDem in the first place.

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( 40 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
May. 11th, 2010 09:25 am (UTC)
I'm not at all sure it would be as bad as you're suggesting here. It could be, and I certainly expect to see all the current polite behaviour evaporate once the negotiations are complete - whatever the outcome. But it could all turn out quite positively, too. There's a very good post on the topic by Millennium Elephant (writing from a LibDem supporting perspective) which you might find interesting.
(no subject) - parrot_knight - May. 11th, 2010 10:42 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - strange_complex - May. 11th, 2010 10:58 am (UTC) - Expand
May. 11th, 2010 09:26 am (UTC)
"being willing to make compromises and negotiate like adults; saying how keen they are to stabilise the country, solve the economic problems, listen to the will of the people, respect each other's decision"

Call me a cynic but I don't see that so much as 'will do and say anything to get into power'.

I wonder how Gordon Brown's leadership will be perceived by future historians?
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - ms_siobhan - May. 11th, 2010 09:41 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - biascut - May. 11th, 2010 10:53 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - strange_complex - May. 11th, 2010 09:36 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ms_siobhan - May. 11th, 2010 09:45 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - strange_complex - May. 11th, 2010 09:46 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ms_siobhan - May. 11th, 2010 09:48 am (UTC) - Expand
May. 11th, 2010 10:37 am (UTC)
I'd be quite happy with a Lib-Con pact even if it only delivers AV. AV is not a great system (I'm not much of a fan of STV either) but it's a noteable improvement on our current system which is about as bad as anyone could possibly come up with.

While a Lab-Lib pact would have much to recomend it over a Lib-Con pact, I think the result of the election means that a Lib-Con pact or a Supply and Confidence arrangement are really the only tenable outcomes. A Lib-Lab pact with a pseudo-majority would be too weak and spend it's first months mirred in the Labour leadership election.

I also don't believe a Lib-Lab pact would get PR through, I think too many Labour backbenchers would join the Tories in voting it down. Which leaves little to recommend it to the Liberals.

The only real question, I think, is whether Clegg and Cameron can carry their parties with them. I think there's little doubt that the two of them would be very willing to deal.
May. 11th, 2010 10:43 am (UTC)
I'd be quite happy with a Lib-Con pact even if it only delivers AV.

Yes, this would certainly be a good start, and much more than I expected to be achievable when this whole process began.

I agree with your reasons for thinking Lab-Lib wouldn't really work, or deliver the desired outcomes, too. If it could, I'd be all for it - but for all Paddy Ashdown's protestations, I don't think it really can.
(no subject) - steer - May. 11th, 2010 11:30 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mister_jack - May. 11th, 2010 11:36 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - steer - May. 11th, 2010 11:37 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mister_jack - May. 11th, 2010 11:49 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - steer - May. 11th, 2010 11:42 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - steer - May. 11th, 2010 11:45 am (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - steer - May. 11th, 2010 01:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 11th, 2010 11:29 am (UTC)
I'm less happy about it. A Lib Con pact will slash the liberal vote next time, much of which is from the left. I would not vote Liberal if I thought I would get Conservative as a result then I would vote Labour.

The Tories are proposing a referendum on AV not to legislate for it. Even if they got to do that in the likely six month lifespan of this parliament they would probably campaign against it. Also, I can't imagine them applying the party whip with too much vigour so the Libs would probably need a few labour MPs to help even to get the referendum through which would then probably not pass. The AV system makes little difference in practice with projections from this election showing almost exactly the same seat breakdown as FPTP.

It seems what the tories are offering is the sliver of a hope of a vote on something the lib dems don't want in any case. In return the lib dems would have their vote in the next election slashed hugely.
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - strange_complex - May. 11th, 2010 11:42 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - steer - May. 11th, 2010 11:44 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - steer - May. 11th, 2010 01:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - rosaguestlist - May. 11th, 2010 08:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - steer - May. 12th, 2010 08:01 am (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - rosaguestlist - May. 11th, 2010 08:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - rosaguestlist - May. 11th, 2010 09:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - strange_complex - May. 11th, 2010 11:40 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - steer - May. 11th, 2010 01:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 11th, 2010 12:48 pm (UTC)
G made the very sensible point that even if the LibDems do form a coalition with the Conservatives and suffer the wrath of voters in the next election, if they've managed to get the voting system changed as a result of that coalition, they'll still get more seats than they have now!

On the other hand, he thinks that putting the two parties together would be like putting ferrets together in a sack, and that the LibLab coalition is the only one that can possibly work.

Me, I'd be happy to see a LibDem-Con alliance-y thing, and interested to see how it would play out, and wouldn't feel particularly 'betrayed'. Actually, the whole 'betrayal' rhetoric is probably another sign of the electorate and media not being ready to move past the confrontational FPTP system, even though the parties are having to do so.
May. 11th, 2010 01:00 pm (UTC)
Yes, I think G's right about the effects of securing a change in the voting system. That's why almost any agreement which really secures that is worth it for the LibDems. It could well damage them in the shorter term, but is worth it for the longer-term prospects - for them and for fairer government.

I agree about the 'betrayal' rhetoric as well. There's a great tendency for all of us ordinary folks to see this in tribalistic terms, but it's been clear over the last few days that the actual players are involved in a much more subtle game than that.
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - hollyione - May. 11th, 2010 08:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 11th, 2010 02:31 pm (UTC)
Weirdest election ever, in my view. How strange to think Northern Ireland was the biggest shock of the whole election.

I think that if a coalition or minority government isn't formed, that the Conservatives will get a majority in a second general election.

So I'd like to think that the LibDems won't give them the chance, and working out some change to the horrible FPTP system can only do us all some good.

No formal ideas here, just feelings :)
May. 11th, 2010 02:46 pm (UTC)
Oh, I know - I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the Belfast East result! As much for an Alliance member winning a seat as for Peter Robinson losing his.

And yes - anything which lets the Tories run a second election campaign in the near future and on the same system we've just used will be a disaster. Let's hope it can be averted!
(no subject) - damien_mocata - May. 11th, 2010 02:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 11th, 2010 05:01 pm (UTC)
It has been a most unusual election, and the aftermath has been something of a revelation mostly, as you say, for showing that a fair number of our politicians can at least give the impression of sitting down and being adult about things. And you never know, some may even find that doing that is actually Not Such A Bad Thing.

The talk at the minute is that a LD/Con agreement is in the offing and that Cameron will probably be taking a drive up to Chez Windsor just after breakfast tomorrow morning. While being far from what I wanted (I would have dearly loved to see the Conservatives slump to 3rd in the polls) I wouldn't feel too bad at seeing such an alliance. OK, it would let the Conservatives in, but at the end of the day they did get more votes and more seats than any other party so the British Voting Public's will has been shown (speaking of which, I feel I should really give the British Voting Public a stern talking to) and, as I said prior to the election, the Lib Dems will at the very least have their hands on the tiller so they will be able to steer Conservative policy away from the more extreme areas of Conservative lunacy.

And they can always walk away from the agreement should they feel that the Conservatives are either going too extreme or not being forthcoming in what was agreed. If they can show that they voted against any massively unpopular Conservative-led bills and that they voted for (or indeed introduced) any popular bills, they can go to the next election with most of their existing popularity intact and (imho more importantly) the ability to show that "yes, we do have experience in Government and we do actually know what we are doing". :)
May. 11th, 2010 07:55 pm (UTC)
Having just seen Cameron's speech on the steps of no. 10, I must say that although it's not what I wanted either, and part of me was revolted by the sight of him walking in through the door, things could certainly be a great deal worse. The general tone of his speech actually sounded very moderate and - well - quite liberal. And I know it's only rhetoric, and we'll see what he's really all about as the details of the deal with the LibDems emerge and the new parliament begins. But if that's how he feels he wants to present himself from the start, that is quite an encouraging thing in itself.
May. 11th, 2010 07:31 pm (UTC)
While I think this is clearly the ideal solution and agree that Clegg has played his hand much better than I thought was possible, I think a note of caution is advisable - this deal does risk contaminating the Liberals with blame for the unpopular cuts that are now coming and I'm not sure I'm quite as optimistic about PR as you. Cameron is offering AV not STV, as I understand it. Also, if you look at projections of how the three parties perform under PR, the Tories do usually come out worst. On the other hand, Clegg has now proved that PR would not mean perpetual Lib-Lab coalitions, which does rather demolish one of the main Tory objections.

"I also underestimated both of the other two parties. Just look at them both - being willing to make compromises and negotiate like adults"

Cameron in particular has surprised me (a cynical view might be that he has a lot to gain from his coalition in terms of softening the 'nasty party' image). It does beggar belief that Labour couldn't bring themselves to scrap ID cards in negotiations though, particularly given that they're now no more affordable than the Tory inheritance tax cuts now.

"For me, that's better than what we had before the election, and better than an outright Tory majority would have been as well."

I might also observe that the Tories and Liberals jointly command a 59% share of the vote, which makes it the first administration since 1931 to have more than 50% (Stanley Baldwin had 55%).

- K
May. 11th, 2010 08:02 pm (UTC)
Oh, I know Cameron is offering AV rather than STV - see the second paragraph up from the bottom in my post. We haven't heard the details yet (though since you posted your comment it's become clear that there will be a coalition), but I am pretty sure there will be a referendum on AV, and AV only. Still, that's a start.

As for contaminating the LibDems' public image - yes, that's clearly already happened to some extent, and could get worse. I imagine that it will be quite a challenge now to go into the next election with a campaign that makes it clear just exactly what the differences between the Tories and the LibDems are.

But things are looking positive overall.
(no subject) - rosaguestlist - May. 11th, 2010 08:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
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