And so the deal is done

Details have been published today of the coalition agreement reached between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. In short this looks (on paper at least) to be an arrangement which should lead to a stable five-year government with an agenda that represents a good mixture of the two policy positions.

I can’t deny that I’ve done an awful lot of soul-searching over the last twenty-four hours or so. Regular visitors to this site will know that I have no great love for the Tories, and the prospect of putting together a deal with them was something I was instinctively, viscerally opposed to. My natural inclination would have always been to seek an arrangement with parliamentary parties ‘of the left’, but the stark electoral arithmetic (not to mention Labour’s understandable reluctance to stay in government) meant that this was always merely an outside possibility.

With a “Progressive Alliance” effectively ruled out there were then only two options left to the Lib Dems. Firstly, they had the choice of doing a deal with no one, thereby allowing a minority Tory administration to be formed. This would hardly have been an advertisement for the Lib Dem commitment to stable government. After years of campaigning for a ‘balanced’ parliament, how ridiculous would Nick Clegg have looked if his party had backed out when the golden opportunity finally arose? The other drawback would have been the likelihood of David Cameron seeking a second General Election within a matter of months. Only the Tories would have been well-resourced enough to be able to afford this, and a majority Conservative government by the end of the year would have had no reason to take on board many of the Lib Dem policy objectives that now form part of the programme of government.

The only realistic option left was to form a coalition government with the only party that had enough seats to make the arrangement work: the Conservatives. There are many bitter pills to be swallowed (Cameron in Number Ten, Tory policies on Europe, Trident and immigration, and George Osborne anywhere near government) but there are also many areas where Liberal Democrats can be happy with what has occurred. A principled, though theoretical, place in opposition would not have delivered the fairer tax agenda, banking reform, a real advance on environmental issues, fixed-term parliaments and at least the start of political reform. Nor would we have had the chance to have Liberal Democrats in government, making decisions.

In an ideal world I would prefer there to be no Tories in government, but the electorate delivered their verdict and the politicians now have a duty to behave responsibly and get on with it. I fully respect Labour’s decision to take to the Opposition benches – they will come back stronger for rest and renewal – and I believe that there is much they can be proud of from their thirteen-year period in office. I am also encouraged by the Conservatives’ willingness to listen and compromise (even if it’ll be a long time before I trust them). The next five years will not be easy for either of the coalition partners, but I take the view that it is better to have Liberal Democrats in the government than in the opposition. Perhaps this is the start of a different way of doing things.

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2 comments

  1. I understand our feelings Jeremy. I grew up in Tory controlled Dorset, my father became the first Liberal leader of Dorset County Council.

    He too had no love of Conservatism or of Conservative politicians. He too made a Faustian pact with the enemy (though in his case the Liberals had a majority) but that pact ensured that the Liberals could grow into a party of Government and sustain control of Dorset for many years.

    I think it will be hard for Liberal parliamentarians,activists and ordinary members and supporters but we will need to remember every week that without the influence of Liberals in this coalition things would be a lot less as we would like them to be.

    There is a literary phrase for this “negative capability”!

  2. You know that I agree with most of what you’ve said but it certainly is a bitter pill to swallow. I believe that it is the way government should be conducted in the face of a hung parliament and if the likes of you and I get our way, Britain will generally have such arrangements in the future. The problem for myself and many people is that the Liberal Democrats represented something to the left of New Labour. Despite the obvious chance to reform the tax system and begin the business of renewing politics, its hard to swallow Osborne and Cameron being in power.Its also hard to swallow the loss of some genuinely radical, left wing policies.

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