I really do feel sorry for Nick Clegg at times.
When taking the Liberal Democrats into the Coalition, he must have known the history of minor coalition parties. He entered the fray with the calm of a World War 1 Officer – ‘chin up chaps, never mind the machine guns, shells and certain doom, we’re British you know!"
The Coalition has provided satirists with an endless stream of calamity and cock-up. Satire has so often been a key part of our democratic system from the writings of Swift, the etchings of Hogarth and the cartoons of punch to TV’s Spitting Image, Brass Eye and sharp-witted bloggers such as Tom Pride.
While this is humorous and politically important, it is also vital that the left seriously looks at the nature of the Coalition and learns from the problems it has.
As time passes FPTP looks worse and worse. In 2010 the Tories won the election with 23.5% of the eligible vote. In 2005 Labour secured a working majority with just 21.6% of the eligible vote. Our system is broken. FPTP simply does not deliver a Government that reflects the view of a majority of the electorate. The solution is to adopt Proportional Representation (PR).
The issue the left must face is that PR mostly leads to coalition Government. If the progressive left wants a better electoral system, coalition Government needs to work. The wholesale trashing of Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats undermines the acceptance of PR. Many Local Authorities are run with parties working together. However, national politics is far too often tribal and shrill. Prime Minister’s Questions demonstrates this perfectly. Tribalists love seeing one side putting the boot into the other, but to the many non-aligned voters out there it looks like nothing more than points scoring. Nothing of substance is asked or answered – it’s an exercise in prepared lines, leading sycophantic questions and diversionary answers. In short, while people are sat home worried about their job, mortgage and school, Parliament looks like a sixth form debating society.
The truth about coalitions is that compromise is an essential element. Give and take is required. No one will get all they want, and will probably have to accept some things they don’t like. This is life at work and at home. Every work place and every family operates on these lines. The question is how this can work in national Government. In countries across the world where PR is embedded, they have years of experience, and are therefore more politically mature at dealing with this. The present Coalition is a novelty, and quite frankly we are metaphorically just learning to walk.
Ed Miliband hopes he can secure a majority in 2015. If he does, it will be under the same inequitable system that requires change. Will he have the will to change a system that unfairly benefits his party for the good of national democracy? I am doubtful. If Labour doesn’t secure a majority, it will have to work with other parties to some degree or another. The list of likely partners is very short indeed. The chance of a Coalition being required is substantial, so Labour had better consider how this would work.
Peering into the hole that Nick Clegg has dug himself into would be a good start.