Saturday, May 08, 2010


This piece in the Independent is a must read on the politics of the negotiations going on in Britain, particularly surrounding Nick Clegg's options as leader of the Liberal Democrats: "Clegg has a real chance to change the system. He must not blow it." There's a real sense that comes through in the piece of this being a crucial moment in time in British politics and specifically, the push for electoral reform there. Whether Clegg, and his party, have the guts to embrace it is the question. There is never an ideal time or easy situation in which such fundamental changes will occur is the message.

Plus there's a lot of the brute reality to the political dynamics presented. Some excerpts:
Of course they face a dilemma. The politics of power presents parties with nightmarish dilemmas every hour of the day. The Liberal Democrats are not used to the politics of power and this is a big test. They do not want to be seen propping up a Labour Party that by any definition performed abysmally in the election. For a time they will no doubt face a critical onslaught. Clegg hates the idea of appearing with Gordon Brown on the steps of No 10 having agreed a deal.

But they are being spectacularly naïve if they believe the formation of a minority Tory administration will lead to their party's revival over the next few years. Similarly, Labour figures who assume a period of opposition would give them space to form a new progressive alliance with the Liberal Democrats that will soon sweep them to power are also deluded. Once the Conservatives seize power they will not let go.
The alternative for Clegg to a deal with Cameron is no political paradise. It would be almost impossibly difficult to work with an unpopular governing party. And yet it is very straightforward. They would get a referendum on electoral reform this year. There is a strong chance the referendum would be won. The next election would be contested under a system that is fairer and the political landscape would change.

No doubt Clegg and others would prefer to secure the reform in a noble context, but there never is change when altruism is called for. Every constitutional reform has been implemented out of self-interest. No Prime Minister changes the voting system to do their party harm. They act out of party interest. Tony Blair did not give the Liberal Democrats a change in 1997 because he had won a landslide. They are being offered one now because Labour has lost its majority. Yesterday I heard a lot of talk about Labour and Liberal Democrats winning the case for electoral reform in opposition, securing power and then introducing the change. This is a fantasy. They must take the chance now or it will not happen.
The conclusion:
Hidden beneath the drama of the moment are deep divisions within each of the parties. Clegg's decision on what to do next will test the precarious unity of the Liberal Democrats. A Labour leadership contest will highlight suppressed tensions about the party's future. Some in the Conservative Party are ready to rage if power is not secured. But only Clegg and his party have the power to decide whether or not permanent change follows the most astonishing election of modern times. They have yearned for such a moment, but might turn away fearful of its political impurity. A pure moment is never going to arrive.
These events are fascinating to watch for the human element. In a very broad sense, it's a case study in testing the mettle of political leaders. What are they willing to step up and do and how will they do it? Will Clegg get that commitment to political reform, i.e., proportional representation, in some mechanism that will be meaningful? Or will he back away from it?

Other notes on this...Clegg is getting pressure on electoral reform, here he is addressing a crowd of 1,000 proportional representation supporters outside a meeting he was at today:

And more on his approach to the negotiations, another statement today, on his four priorities. Number four is the political reform principle:

Lastly, here's another piece on Clegg's moment that's worth a read.