Well, it’s been 24 hours since the polls close and the country is still digesting the outcome of the 2010 General Election. Gordon Brown is still in Downing Street but for how much longer ?
A day that started in some gloom in Lib Dem circles has ended with much anticipation and trepidation following David Cameron’s unprecedented “big” offer to the party in mid-afternoon.
Let’s be honest – the election result was disappointing for the party and the vote share in particular was disappointing after the 26-28% vote shares being shown even in the late polls. There were a number of factors at play which I’ll discuss another time.
For now, Nick Clegg and the slightly reduced parliamentary party meet tomorrow to consider their options and in particular David Cameron’s offer of negotiation. Some (I suspect Simon Hughes) will be diametrically opposed to any accommodation with the Conservatives, others will be more pragmatic.
My view this morning was that the Liberal Democrats should avoid deals or arrangements with BOTH Labour and the Conservatives and I’m still of that mind. David Cameron isn’t playing an entirely straight hand here, I think. He knows there are some tough decisions ahead and he’s looking for someone else to share the blame and shore up vulnerable Conservative seats. As a party, the Liberal Democrats cannot be seen to be too close to the Conservatives in the medium to long term.
In the shorter term, IF there are areas within any legislation that the party is able to support, so be it. Otherwise, it can seek to amend the legislation or could support Labour amendments. I understand where Cameron is coming from but it’s not for us to act as his Government’s stabiliser.
In addition, the Conservatives are offering next to nothing on electoral reform despite yesterday’s result once again illustrating the bankruptcy of FPTP – 36% of the vote should not get you 47% of the seats. A mealy-mouthed commitment to an inquiry is less than nothing. I’m sure Conservative concerns on Europe and defence could be accommodated but electoral reform is huge for the party.
There’s a strategic argument against coalition especially when it’s going to get very tough for any new Government. That said, if parties agree on legislation, there’s no need for formal arrangements.
We can quickly dismiss the blandishments of Gordon Brown, who already looks irrelevant. Labour has stormed back in the local elections in London and clearly there is plenty of fight in the party. If the Liberal Democrats join with the Conservatives, Labour will swiftly become the alternative Government-in-waiting.
The option of supporting a minority Cameron Government without a formal arrangement may not suit David Cameron and it might not even suit Nick Clegg but the medium-term prospects for the party could be best served by a little distance – not perhaps equidistance but a respectful distance nonetheless.
It is also vitally important the party stays united and cohesive in the coming days. There is a clear path of accountability within the process but Nick Clegg must be allowed room to manoeuvre and to see what other concessions he can wring out of Cameron.
If it must be failure, far better that it be seen to be Cameron’s failure to deliver his team than Clegg fail to deliver his.