Indications this afternoon suggest that the Conservative-Liberal Democrat “deal” is close to being concluded. Those opposed to it from across the political spectrum have been making mischief and in particular vitriolic attacks have been launched on Nick Clegg for apparently negotiating with both Labour and the Conservatives at the same time.
As the actual negotiations have been shrouded in a veil of non-disclosure, it’s allowed the conspiracy theorists and those bored by the repetition of the 24-hour news cycle to come up with all kinds of explanations. People in this country who are used to the continuity of Government seem to struggle with the concept of negotiation and compromise and accuse Nick Clegg of “holding the country to ransom”.
This twaddle that passes for analysis ignores the fact that the Liberal Democrats merely offered the Conservatives first refusal, not exclusivity. Labour wanted talks and there was no reason to refuse the offer. Indeed, the Labour media machine probably made far more of the talks than the reality which was clearly more an exercise of going through the motions.
The very act of talking to Labour seems to have got some people agitated but nobody, now or in the future, can argue that the Liberal Democrats didn’t play fair by both sides. However, the likelihood of a deal with the Conservatives has always been there and while the offer of a referendum on the Alternative Vote system is a step in the right direction, there have been other areas of compromise but the detail will become clearer later.
The impatience of the Tory media has been lamentable and the prognostications of disaster from people like Allister Heath equally ill-informed nonsense. Time has been taken and the language of senior Conservatives such as Michael Gove and William Hague has been welcome and conciliatory. The deal won’t please everyone but it will be the basis of a prolonged period of stable and decisive Government from which I believe both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats will ultimately benefit.
There is also another coalition forming – of those opposed to the new Government. This is a disparate bunch ranging from those Tories and Liberal Democrats who cannot stomach the thought of their parties working together through Labour, many of whose representatives have acquitted themselves honourably in the past few days, to more fringe elements. This group, apart from being angry with Nick Clegg for spurning Labour and the so-called “progressive alliance” is also peddling the view that the new Government will collapse swiftly and there will be another election.
I don’t subscribe to that view at all – I hope that the new agreement is for the duration of the parliament and that with that stability assured, the new Government will be able to move ahead with the tough economic measures required and instigate a comprehensive programme of political reform.
It won’t be easy and I suspect one or two Lib Dem MPs, peers and some high-profile members will flounce off in disgust but the country cannot afford the luxury of ideological purity at this time. Frustration over the past 72 hours will soon pass and the new Government will have the authority to begin its work.
I wish it well.