Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Four Parties, Several Outcomes

We are probably into a four party politics in a first past the post system that suits two parties.

In the 1980s the emergence of the SDP split the left vote and allowed the Tories to win in many constituencies. That plus Michael Foot's 'suicide note' Labour Party campaign and the Falklands War.

Over the years the Liberal Democrats and Labour vote started sorting itself out, so that both had an anti-Conservative identity and there was enough of a critical voting alliance for people to vote for their second best to keep out the Tories. At times it seemed that the Liberal Democrats were to the left of Blair's Labour Party and they won more in the north as Blair's Labour hollowed out its own support. Once Gordon Brown moved in, Labour was like the Tories under Major (except Major did win one against Kinnock, and paid for it via the ERM failure and the fruitcake Tory right).

Brown did stage a small recovery that stunted Liberal Democrat hopes, but in 2010 the Liberal Democrats stole the anti-Tory vote for them by supporting not only a Tory led coalition but Tory policies. The worst of these is probably the Bedroom Tax, a direct attack on the poor, but there has been a consistent attack on those with the least. The Liberal Democrats had a campaign about politicians and honesty, and turned out to be the biggest liars of them all, never intending to defend the university policy that had attracted so many university constituency votes. They've joined the Tory discriminatory mantra of 'hard working families who want to get on' which begs all sorts of questions about how you get work, how you make it hard, what constitutes a family and why families, and what does it mean to get on (presumably, materialist). The Liberal Democrats used to be about communities and liberty and people, as well as particularly small scale freedom in economics. But the Orange Group captured the party and they have turned into economic liberals as narrow as Margaret Thatcher ever was.

Cameron's Conservatives have dovetailed quite well with this Liberal Democrat reversal and narrowing, which is why the Liberal Democrats will lose their northern left of centre support and will only be alternative Conservatives in specific areas. Cameron's conservatives includes an egalitarian social agenda in terms of identity politics but in economics it's red in tooth and claw. Osborne, who is a failing Chancellor if ever there was one, seems to drive this economic agenda with a wheel that doesn't turn and an accelerator that's fixed. His henchman Danny Alexander ties in the Liberal Democrats to this agenda. Only Vince Cable in the Business Department tries something different: there are echoes here of Wilson's 60s government and how the Treasury eventually squashed George Brown's mild departmental attempts at economic planning. The treasury always wins and its why so little has been done about the banks. Again.

Like so many others, I voted for the Liberal Democrats on the basis of its manifesto. It was a lie and when Michael Portillo says that the government has 60% of the votes and is more radical than Thatcher, it's only on the basis of the votes stolen by the Liberal Democrats and what they have actually done.

So what of UKIP, as the electorate thrashes around for somewhere to vote? Farage is actually offering the Tories the means to organise the right of centre vote by offering a pact if Cameron resigns (presumably Osborne as well). UKIP isn't racist but says and does enough that dampens down and removes the BNP. UKIP is really quite old fashioned. It represents a feudal Tory nationalism that also attracts a part of the working class, or what's remaining of it, and even the underclass. As it says, with the Liberal Democrats you (evidently) didn't know what you were voting for (fools like me thought they had sorted that out with a broad left libertarian stance) but there's no mistake with UKIP. UKIP is out of the EU, hefty cuts in immigration, grammar schools, a back to the 1950s and 1960s. UKIP would be nationalist about employment and industry so they would be interventionist and not just market driven.

The other parties might want to neutralise UKIP by offering a referendum on European Union membership, but none of these parties would want to risk coming out of the EU; and the price of coming out by defective intention is probably too high to risk the policy. The Tories fearing the worst of a split right vote would go closest to the wire to dry and dull UKIP's appeal, but indeed it could result in removal if only because many Tory MPs also want to leave Europe. They'd prefer a pact with UKIP and dump the Liberal Democrats, except it has no reality in the current House of Commons. It could though shorten the coalition's life.

The UKIP calculation must be to cost the Tories the next General Election and then to organise to achieve the result, with different Tory leadership, to come out of the EU. This is probably what will happen as Labour is most likely to win (as the government loses, and the Liberal Democrat vote collapses into its self-made rubble). Labour itself will have to secure its base and broaden its appeal: the Labour right wants to attack welfare too but that will just hollow out its vote again.

I hope the coalition collapses. If I was a Liberal Democrat member I'd be plotting to get rid of Clegg and try and reassert the party and its definition. Alexander and Laws have to go. Even if Clegg fights to stay he'll probably lose his Sheffield seat - there is a lot of resentment about him even in his constituency.

The Tory right will want to preserve its chance of power and can be as ruthless as the Liberal Democrats have been (regarding recent leaders). The coalition is pointless now because it represents economic failure and has nowhere to go. Cameron is its blockage, so he'd need to be told he's lost authority.

The only alternative to this is the coalition fighting the next election as a coalition - with the Liberal Democrats therefore confirmed as the alternative Tories. That would, though, split the Liberal Democrats. The coalition itself was a stretch too far for many insiders, to make it glued together is too far for most.

I only hope that the next government, Labour, is a relief from this lot, and does actually do something about employment. It can be 'employer of last resort' as a way to raise activity - I hope they can find and generate the placements and afford it all. The Tories' Work Programme, neither work nor programme, is at least cheap. I do like Ed Miliband in that he shows an ethical centre. Labour's Blairite right wing would remove him, as would the press and much media, but he might be like Kinnock could have been - doing the right thing at least. They stand for more than power for power's sake, I think.

So best wishes to UKIP. I hope it fails in its primary task but succeeds in its political effects in the short run. All parts of the current coalition should meanwhile plan for the separated future: the Tories and after Cameron, the Liberal Democrats and the long rebuild necessary after the damage inflicted by Nick Clegg and his right wing sympathisers. Getting rid of them would help.

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