Thursday, 13 May 2010

What people are talking about

The coalition has been the only topic of conversation on Westminster's streets for the last two days, or so it's seemed to me on walks between Victoria and Fleet Street. The novelty of the new setup attracts curiosity, unsurprisingly, but I also detect an unusual level of goodwill. It is as though a higher percentage of people than usual feel that they own a piece of this new government. And they can, because about two thirds of those who voted supported a faction that is now part of the government. Another factor behind the general air of optimism could be a response to enthusiastic fresh faces in ministerial posts. Or is it just because it's spring, and the grass is full of daisy flowers in St. James's Park? By the way, for those who rate omens, there was a rainbow over the Palace of Westminster on Tuesday evening.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

The prize

Remember that line about being wary of them even when they bring gifts? That is how I feel about the Conservatives with their very late offer of a referendum on the Alternative Vote system. Behind the courtesy at the negotiating table they thought the Lib Dems had no alternative to a Tory-LD deal. The Right were salivating at the thought of getting power back. It seems they thought they could get away with not offering a referendum. The offer was only dragged out of them when the LD team began to walk away. Clearly the Conservatives still love First Past the Post and that is not surprising - it has served them very well. But the national interest requires that the era of phoney majorities based on a minority of the popular vote must end. The electorate has this time withheld a majority whether in the Commons or in votes cast from any party. Many more people voted against the Conservatives than for. Even the inscrutable millions who could have voted and didn't were expressing something that could be interpreted as disillusionment and a feeling of powerlessness. This cannot go on. The arithmetic of an LD-Lab alliance could, just, work, as I don't see the minor parties rocking that boat if launched. So in my view, the LD team is right to talk now to Labour. The prize is an electoral system in which the people's votes really count, that could reinvigorate our democracy. The electorate has given the LD team a unique opportunity to bring both main parties to heel, and they are right to take it. But I'm wary of Labour bearing gifts, too.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

It is so strange!

Something enormous happened early on Friday morning, in an understated and very British way. The Lib Dems suffered casualties, but emerged from the latest contests with 57 MPs, who now block the entrance to 10 Downing Street for a humbled David Cameron (only weeks ago so confident of victory). It is so strange! How best to exploit the advantage handed to us by millions of individual choices made by the British people? Some object to a deal with Labour, others to a deal with the Tories, but this is not on: our MPs are not in a situation of their own choice and they have to deal with a reality that is not of anyone's making, or rather is of everyone's making. I cannot fault Nick Clegg's announcement so far that fundamental political reform is a sine qua non of any deal, and if David Cameron doesn't like it, tough: he will probably find minority government is worse. As for other conditions, like millions of people I would be relieved and glad to see Vince Cable as Chancellor because he deserves our trust at this difficult time. Do your best and go for it, Nick!