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Eagle Eye

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Ben Chu: Beware two-party thinking

Posted by Eagle Eye
  • Tuesday, 11 May 2010 at 12:23 pm

I think there's a real danger of people looking at these coalition talks and seeing what they want to see.

Paddy Ashdown was on Today this morning arguing that a Lib/Lab pact would be "legitimate" because a majority of the British electorate, 52 per cent, voted for those two parties. (29 per cent Labour, 23 per cent Lib Dem).

Undoubtedly true. And a good rebuttal to those who argue that a Lib/Lab pact would be a "coalition of the losers". 

But consider that a Lib/Con pact would also be "legitimate" because a majority of the British electorate voted for those two parties too. And the popular mandate of that pact would be arguably greater, at 59 per cent of the vote. (36 per cent Conservatives, 23 per cent Lib Dem).

There's a tendency among some on the left, as Giles Wilkes of the Freethinking Economist has pointed out, to assume that a Lib/Lab pact is somehow the only legitimate coalition that can emerge from these dealings - not just desirable, but legitimate. Why? Because a Lib Dem vote was obviously, in their eyes, an anti-Tory vote. For me, that's two-party thinking - and something that the Lib Dems should be keen to repudiate.


comradekaff wrote:
Tuesday, 11 May 2010 at 01:33 pm (UTC)
And what counts as well as numbers is being able to work with former opponents.

I'm a militant Liberal Democrat, and know that anything more than supporting a Minority Tory Govt in the Queen's speech and a Budget will make people like me leave the party.

I would not be able to canvass again for the party, and a close alliance with the Tories when other options are available, would go completely against my blood stream.

I don't know if Clegg has fully factored this in, Cameron might have though.
"Two party" thinking.
john_b_ellis wrote:
Tuesday, 11 May 2010 at 02:07 pm (UTC)
Totally agree with Ben Chu's argument about the "two-party thinking". This election, even under "first past the post", has brought us abruptly and inescapably face to face with the reality that we now really and truly aren't in the two-party UK political universe of the 1950s and 60s. Till now, FPTP has obscured the nature of the change from a lot of casual electors, while it's suited the more knowledgable tribal element at every level in the two large parties to pretend that nothing's really changed - hence the indignant - and fundamentally remarkably similar! - sputterings over the last day from the likes of Rifkind and Reid.

As another Lib Dem activist, I think that our party was totally right to talk to both main parties, and to begin with the Tories because they got both the largest number of seats and the largest share of the vote. There's no other reason to favour one over the other.

Whether a coalition is feasible will depend on the degree to which the other parties involved feel able to modify their policy stance to make a coalition possible. I've no objection to a close embrace with any of them if the deal means that we don't renege on the fundamental principles of the platform that we offered to the electorate during the campaign. Anything else would be dishonest.

If that's not possible, then "confidence and supply" - presumably with the Tories as no other alternative along those lines seems feasible - is all that remains open. There has to be some sort of government.

I'm more than happy so far with the way the Lib Dem negotiating team has played the difficult hand that the election's dealt the three largest parties. If the Tories feel they can make coalition possible, coalition it can be.
drewadamson wrote:
Tuesday, 11 May 2010 at 02:10 pm (UTC)
Surely the length of time taken to secure a Lib/Con alliance speaks volumes. A tory-boy Liberal from a public school trying to bulldoze the rest of the Liberal Universe into a deal with his Tory boy pal, when the party's idealogies are closer, but only a little closer, to Labour.
towthorpe wrote:
Tuesday, 11 May 2010 at 03:50 pm (UTC)
What is interesting is that nobody is talking about a fresh election and in reality only the Tories could afford it!

I also wonder where all these disaffected Liberals are going to go, probably both ways so will cancel each other out out...ha ha ha.