You know me. You really do. I’m a Liberal. I’m also, with the usual Churchillian caveat, a Democrat and (with any luck this won’t confuse our American friends) a Republican. Not for me the bloody revolution, the quiet assassination, the miracle coup, the death-knell inheritance or the smoke signals. I believe in the rights of the individual and I believe in the social contract.
We’ve seen an astonishing election and an even more astonishing post-election period. I’ve never lived through the formation of a coalition government. It’s been really exciting. I really don’t give a hoot that these negotiations have been held privately; the votes came back with a hung parliament – what could the public then expect? It’s the job of our politicians to negotiate. If they can’t do that then they’re clearly rubbish.
And yes – I’m not a Tory. I’m very far from being a Tory. I don’t believe in the power of the free market, I don’t believe that government usually gets in the way, I don’t believe that the wealth of the country is best-served by increasing the wealth of the few.
But what we have seen come about, the coalition of the Liberal Democrats with the Conservatives, is something that I tentatively support. For Labour to continue, given the electoral outcome, would simply have not been feasible. Yes, yes – they probably could have done it on the numbers. It would have been a thrill ride of a Parliament, every vote a nail-biter, the Conservatives feasting on every compromise and minor disagreement, braying for the sunken-eyed carcass of Gordon Brown, or his replacement, at every turn. And of course you can never underestimate the power of Power. But Labour have had power for too long to have any clue as to how to share it. And they have taken such strides of illiberality that the Lib Dems would have been sullied by association.
I would love the Liberal Democrats to rule forever. But I must accept – here’s the Democrat part – that a fair chunk of my electoral peers disagree. The days are very, very early. But it seems to me that what we may have seen is the Tories significantly compromising on some of their policies. As have, by necessity, the Liberal Democrats. We will, if the reasonable words of Mr Cameron are anything to go by, see something like a Liberal Conservative government. And I believe that that corresponds with the strongest, most plausible reading of the electoral outcome.
Further, what we have seen has been, to my mind, the finest advertisement for something like proportional representation. Compromise in politics has been really rather pretty. It’s not something we British are used to. Normally it’s a cycle of proposal and rebuttal, success or humiliation, arm-twisting or climb-down. Maybe, though, we’ll start to get used to a more mature form of politics; disagreement leading to carefulness. And maybe the electorate will see that a more proportional system could work. Of course, it’s not going to happen – we’ll get AV at best, which is barely more proportional than what we have. But, you know – it’s nice to dream.
One last thought – my suspicion is that the person most pleased with this outcome is a certain David Cameron. Not for the obvious reason that he’s now PM, though I suspect that that gives him a little jolt of joy (“whoopee!” Codes for the nukes!”) but because he’ll now be able to be a fully-fledged compassionate Conservative (for want of a better term) – and blame the compassion on Nick Clegg. He ought to be able to keep even the fractious Conservative party together for the three or four years of this government – they are in charge now, after all. Ah. Actually, I suddenly feel a little unwell…