Wednesday, 12 May 2010

'New politics'? Tory pragmatism in pursuit of power, more like...

 "There is just a gulf between what David Cameron stands for and what I stand for, in terms of values, in terms of internationalism, in terms of fairness, in terms of progressive tax reform, in terms of political reform"
-Nick Clegg, May 1 2010

Time will tell, but this train of events seems to show a Thatcherite consensus emerging between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. So, no real difference from the last 13 years. For Labour, the chickens come to roost: their failure to change the voting system and cultivate a collegiate centre-left alliance has allowed this rather smug spectacle..

The crucial issues will be: the media (will the Conservatives be able to further the Murdochian agenda?), civil liberties (will the supposed 'Liberal Conservative' government prove at all liberal ), foreign policy (Hague and Fox at the helm; shudder, those of us who want a more European, less Neo-Conservative country), cuts (can the LDs square any of their old social democratic beliefs with the attack on Beveridge Britain that the Tories plan?).

The LibDems wouldn't have done this under more left-leaning leaders like Kennedy and Campbell. They will now open themselves up to the unpopularity of government, perhaps even allowing the Tories to deflect the blame on certain issues.

In purely rational terms, this is better than a Tory government elected with a swaggering majority; some of the more extreme Tory policies have been dropped - the absurdly iniquitous inheritance tax cut, married couples allowance (though this has not been ruled out fully, I gather). No new Heathrow runway. No ID cards. It looks like there will be no repeal of the Human Rights Act. Better a slightly saner, more moderate Tory government than a Tory government fully implementing its manifesto. It is unquestionable that the planned coalition will be more redistributive than a purely Tory government would have been. It seems much unclearer whether the nature of the public spending cuts will change. Markets and the privileged are likely to be put ahead of ordinary people. If Labour does not move away from the neo-liberal economic consensus, it will be missing a real opportunity to build support.

The key will be whether this can genuinely be a One Nation government; it won't if it panders to Murdoch and the Mail - and not if it uses the cuts agenda to attack ordinary people and public sector workers.

LibDems need to ask themselves: are they not being swallowed up by a Conservative Party which has rediscovered the benefits it can obtain from pragmatism? Cameron is more concerned about power than about ideology, yet all of his assumptions remain wedded to the Thatcher-Blair consensus of our time. The LibDems have now definitely aligned themselves explicitly with this, with little definite assurance of gaining STV.


  1. Hi Tom
    Have been trying to read up a bit about the election results but finding it difficult to come up with much. How were things in the North East? It looked from the maps like the Tories did pretty well but maybe the maps can be misleading in this regard. Do you think that the people generally moved rightwards or that apathy and anger at Labour's many dismal failures just opened the doors to the Tories?

  2. Hi Gregor,

    The Tories did gain some votes in the North-east, but weren't any more than 4% up compared with 2005. Labour fell more than in any other area apart from East Anglia - by 9.3%

    Much of the larger swings came in the safer Labour seats; they didn't do as well as hoped in some of the closer contests - e.g. Tynemouth saw barely any swing to the Tories (due to an unpopular candidate parachuted in), and Sunderland Central (my seat) was in line with the national swing of 5% and not gained, but retained by Labour with a 7000 plus majority.

    There was no great enthusiasm for the Tories, but they did make small inroads in the NE. More of it was Labour unpopularity, although I was aware of several colleagues in Tynemouth voting Labour 'to keep the Tories out', which happened in quite a few seats around the country with more public-sector workers and progressively minded people. Labour notably outperformed expectations in Scotland, London and, to a certain extent, the North West.

    Labour should be in a position next time to regain the few northern seats lost, i.e. Carlisle in Cumbria and Stockton South. Both only just lost to the Tories...

  3. Cheers for the breakdown Tom; in the end I voted Labour out of sheer atavism: an image of David Cameron and Osborne grinning flashed in front of my eyes.

    I do think it would have been preferable for Labour to have won in some regards, but in other regards it might have been worth them losing to know that they can't take leftwing voters for granted purely by not being Tories.

    It will be interesting to see what the Labour party will do now: if they'll elect a real social democrat or not.

  4. The budget has changed things; it is unbelievable that the LDs have so happily signed up to it. The faultlines between the Clegg/Laws type and the KennedyHughes kind of 'Beveridge Liberal' will really begin to show, if these proposed *25%* cuts, unprecedented in scale, occur across the whole public sector.

    Labour needs to make at least the moderate move to say 'they are cutting too fast without reason or sympathy with ordinary people'.

    More on the cuts, anon, on this here blog.