So Farewell, Then, Labour…

For those three people who don’t yet know, the Labour party refused to make any concessions to form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. As a result, the Lib Dems were left with the choices of either a Conservative minority government or forming a coalition with the Conservatives. One or other has happened and now David Cameron is going to become Prime Minister.

We don’t know yet what the deal is, but the rumour is that party members will be balloted. I am unsure how I shall vote – that depends on the details of the deal, but either way I shall remain a member of the party and stand by its democratic decision.

The Liberal Democrats will be pilloried for this, and have probably been set back electorally fifteen years. But if the Conservatives have most votes *and* most seats, and if Labour won’t work with us, there are no other options open but to try to moderate the damage the Tories will undoubtedly do (just as if the situation were reversed we should have had to moderate the equally evil acts they would no doubt perpetrate).

It’s come to something when a Conservative in Ten Downing Street is actually the least-worst option open to us, and when the closest the Lib Dems have ever got to power is also the event that will destroy a large part of their support base.

Just remember, anyone who wants to talk about ‘betrayal’ – We did exactly what we said, and negotiated in good faith. Labour wouldn’t give ground on human rights and electoral reform. The Tories apparently would. Don’t DARE ever claim to me that Labour are ‘progressive’ again. If they’re more right-wing and authoritarian than Tory scum now, then you can call them Tories or you can call them fascists, but you can’t call them progressive. We tried for the deal you wanted.

Don’t let this make anyone think I will support the government, though. I will support the LIBERAL DEMOCRATS, and work to get the Tories out, just as before.

A Quick Explanation For Americans And Other Confused Persons

Batman posts have to hold off a few days I’m afraid…

The one-line summary for Americans is that we’re reliving Bush vs Gore, and Ralph Nader has been asked to choose.

In the election this week, no party got an overall majority – this is roughly the same as not being filibuster-proof in the US system.

There are three major parties in the UK – the Conservatives, the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats. They came first, second and third, respectively, in the election, but none did well enough to form a government. The Conservatives and Labour hate each other even though there’s not really very much difference between them, so definitely won’t work together.

The Conservatives could form a government with Liberal Democrat support, and have a majority. The Labour party could form a government if it got the support of the Liberal Democrats *and* the Nationalist parties (there are parties that want Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to become separate countries. They all hate the Tories and have effectively agreed to this even without being asked) *and* the single Green MP.

The Liberal Democrats are probably closer politically to Labour than the Conservatives, but not by very much (we’re more different from either of them than they are from each other). Most Lib Dem members and voters *HATE* the Conservatives, but just dislike Labour, but some feel the other way round.

However, the Conservatives did far better than Labour in the election, and it may well be politically impossible to support Labour, because it’s clear that nobody likes the Labour government,and people *LOATHE* Gordon Brown.

However, most of *OUR* supporters probably prefer Labour to the Conservatives, and would feel betrayed by supporting the Conservatives (including myself unless we got an *astonishingly* good deal).

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, though, is rumoured to be closer to the Conservatives.

One of the most important things we’ll be arguing for is a fairer voting system. The Conservatives *won’t* let us have this. Labour *might* – but they’re after a different system instead, which we don’t like. The Nationalists etc would side with us on this.

Nick Clegg can’t make a deal without the agreement of both the Federal Executive of the party *AND* the MPs – if he doesn’t get that agreement then he has to call a party conference to decide.

We’re not, however, a very large party compared to the other two, so don’t have a lot of room to manoeuvre.

Interesting times lie ahead. Whatever happens, a lot of people are going to be angry. Probably including me.

Tactical Voting – An (Unsuccessful) Attempt At A Non-Partisan Guide

I’ve not been in any state to blog recently (as those of you who saw the rather embarrassing linkblog the other day will know) because a roller-coaster is nothing to an election campaign. The human body simply isn’t built to withstand the constant adrenaline shocks to the system – “Oh god, we’re 1% down on a poll whose margin of error is 2%!” “Wow, two friends of mine i always thought of as not especially political just decided to join the party!” “Oh Christ, Gordon Brown just gave the speech of his life!” “Hooray! Neil Innes has decided to vote for us!” “FUCK! Cameron might try to take power with a minority government, going against constitutional precedent!” “YES! We’re 2% up in a poll whose margin of error is 2%!” and so on. Examining everything for signs and portents, despite the inherent impossibility of predicting what is the most chaotic election in British political history.

(In some ways it’s been easier being a Lib Dem in previous elections, where we’ve definitely been coming third – you know your efforts matter, because you’re building support and playing the long game – and had the party not spent decades doing the groundwork, building local parties up, getting council seats, we wouldn’t be in a position to affect the result now – but you also know you’re coming third before you start. This way is infinitely more nerve-wracking.)

Then there’s the physical exertion. My day job is as a software engineer, and my principal hobby is blogging. This means my life pretty much entirely consists of sitting in one place, moving only my hands, with occasional breaks for sleep. I was delivering in Yorkshire yesterday. Did you know that Yorkshire is entirely made of hills? And not only are the roads all hills, sometimes they have special bits where every single house gets its own small extra hill. And don’t get me started on letterboxes.

So for at least the last few days I’ve been in some kind of hallucinatory daze, and certainly incapable of talking sensibly about anything, but there’s one post I want to get out of the way, and that’s the tactical vote one.

Now, I believe that all major political parties have a rule that no party member can advocate a vote for another party in a seat in which they’re standing, so you’re *never* going to see complete honesty on this from a partisan blogger. Every party member knows of at least one incompetent buffoon of a parliamentary candidate who’s standing against a principled opponent, but they have to endorse that candidate or not talk about it. So can we take as read that my advice is that you should always, in all circumstances, vote Liberal Democrat? OK. Now on to what you should actually do if you’re considering tactical voting at all. I’m going to try to phrase this as honestly as I can given that I’m a party member. And I’m assuming here you’re voting for your preferred type of government – you might have a great candidate for your non-preferred party, or you might want to vote for a nationalist party who won’t form a UK government.

Weirdly, my honest attempt at impartial advice does come out as ‘in almost all cases, vote Liberal Democrat’ – but you might want to see my reasoning, and see if you agree…

If you’re Tory Well, actually, I suspect my blog has very few Tory readers. However, if you are one, David Cameron has *INCREDIBLY* stupidly ruled out any form of coalition with the Lib Dems in a hung parliament, so this won’t be of much use to you…

If you actively want a balanced (‘hung’) parliament for whatever reason, then Hang ‘Em is a campaign to get just that. It lists candidates who ‘have a chance of winning’, are either third-party or independent (but not BNP) , or are major party MPs with a long history of rebellion. In practice, more often than not, this will mean voting Lib Dem – and in fact that would be a good rough heuristic – but you might have other options which might appeal.

If you’re Labour then you do want to vote tactically. Labour have so destroyed their own base that their only hope for government is a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Frankly, even that’s a slim hope – most of us are furious at Labour’s record, and I think a coalition with *either* major party in their present forms unlikely – but it’s *possible*, while an outright Labour win just isn’t. Lee Griffin and the Daily Mirror (pdf) both have guides on how to vote tactically for a ‘progressive’/’anti-Tory’ majority – by which they mean a Labour-led coalition with the Lib Dems.

If you’re a smaller party supporter then the chances are very small that your preferred candidate will get in, pretty much by definition. My argument has always been that in this case you should vote Lib Dem in the hope of getting a fairer system, and I do think that’s the only way of getting any smaller parties into Parliament in significant numbers in the near future, but feel free to disagree.

If you’re a Liberal Democrat DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES vote tactically. Not this time. Vote Lib Dem even if you’re in a Lab/Con marginal and you know it’s keeping in the bastard Tories/torturing authoritarian arsehole Labour. The reason is simple – we need to come either first or second in the popular vote if we want to be able to *lead* a coalition – or to convincingly set terms by which some sort of deal can be cut. Our biggest, most important policy – the *SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT THING A LIBERAL DEMOCRAT GOVERNMENT COULD EVER DO* – is to fix our voting system. We can only argue convincingly that we have a real democratic mandate to that if we can point to all the people who voted for us in seats where we *didn’t* get in. This is the first time *EVER* that the Liberal Democrats have had a real chance at getting power, in order to give the power back to the people – but we need to show that enough of those people support us, and not just in tactical voting areas.

If you’re still undecided Vote Lib Dem because I said so. You like me, don’t you? I like Batman. You like Batman. We have something in common! Vote Lib Dem. Or if that’s not good enough for you, and you think I may not be the most impartial of sources, try Votematch – a completely impartial system that asks you what your views are and then tells you which party has views closest to yours.

All this talk of tactical voting upsets me though – *no-one* should *EVER* have to even think about voting tactically – you should be able to vote for the party you want. As Millennium says:

Mr Balloon warns against “voting tactically”, but ONLY the Liberal Democrats want to change the system so that you NEVER have to vote tactically again.

Mr Balloon says that the current voting system lets you throw out the government. Well tell that to a voter in Richmond (Conservatory majority: 17,807 – where 40% of the voters have NO SAY AT ALL

The Conservatories idea of “change” is to redraw the boundaries in their own favour, to cut the number of MPs who might hold their government to account. (Reducing the number of MPs without making the system more representative just makes more and bigger safer seats.)

Will the Liberal Democrats do better under a FAIRER voting system? Well YES, but that doesn’t make it WRONG.

Greens and Libertarians and Christian Democrats and Monster Raving Loonies and Animal Rights Campaigners and Pirates and Cornish Separatists and Socialists and yes even the fruitloops from UKIP will ALL do better under a fairer system.

And above all YOU will do better out of a fairer system, because whoever you vote for, you’ll have a better chance of having your voice heard in Parliament. You will do better from a system that doesn’t EXCLUDE voices, that doesn’t FORCE all the politicians to SOUND THE SAME just to appeal to the swing voters in the key marginals.

I really didn’t want this to be a partisan post when I started, but when I try to think about things as clearly, rationally and fair-mindedly as possible, I always end up clearly, calmly and rationally advising a vote for the Liberal Democrats. I don’t know if that says more about the Lib Dems or about me…

On Coalitions

A lot of Labour supporters – and Green supporters – have been up in arms for the last day or so, practically frothing at the mouth and screaming because Nick Clegg has said that

if Labour gets the smallest share of the vote of the three main parties and the most seats, he would not tolerate Brown remaining prime minister.

(from here. Warning – Murdoch paper.)

A lot of Labour supporters seem to be seeing the Lib Dems as basically the same as Labour really (in the attitude that ‘Liberal’ Conspiracy takes), and as some kind of secret backup plan – and so they’ve been incredibly hurt by this, and got angry, accusing Clegg of saying he will form a coalition with the Conservatives, and screaming ‘vote Clegg get Cameron’.

But look at what he’s actually saying:
IF Labour come third in the vote
THEN we would not tolerate
GORDON BROWN remaining Prime Minister.

What this *DOESN’T* say:
We won’t work with Labour if they come second
We won’t work with Labour with another leader
We won’t work with Labour as the junior partner in a Lib Dem-led coalition.

It’s very simple – if Labour come THIRD (not second, note, THIRD), Gordon Brown doesn’t get to be Prime Minister any more. That’s all he’s said.

I’ve spent much of this election staggered at the sense of entitlement coming from the Tories, their sense that they don’t need to actually do anything because it’s their turn to be in power – but even they don’t have the nerve to suggest that IF THEY COME THIRD they should run the country, and be angry at A DIFFERENT PARTY for not agreeing with them about that.

Just to be clear, I don’t think we will form a coalition with the Tories – in fact I would leave the party if we did so, because I remember the Thatcher and Major years too well, and even though I actually have no rational basis for preferring Labour – both parties being evil, as far as I can see – I have a visceral, irrational hatred of the Tories. So if I thought I was supporting a Lib/Tory coalition, I would leave today. It’s not going to happen.

But all along Clegg has made clear exactly what would have to be agreed to form a coalition with either other major party – tax rises on the rich to pay for tax cuts for the poor, spending more on education for poor children, electoral reform and a change from an economy based on financial services to a more environmentally-friendly one. Those don’t sound especially Tory to me.

I suspect it simply never occurred to him until this week to say “the party with the most votes should be in charge” because it would take a sense of entitlement the size of a small galaxy to demand to still be in charge AFTER COMING THIRD, and to make that demand of a party WITH THE WORD ‘DEMOCRATS’ IN ITS NAME.

To be honest, I think Labour and the Tories would make better coalition partners together than either would with us. As I said in the comments to this post by millennium, “Let the war criminals and the idiot sons of privilege go into coalition together. They deserve each other.”

In this election, for the first time in my lifetime, there’s a chance for *REAL* change. Vote for the party *YOU WANT TO WIN*. If you want a bunch of corrupt war criminals, vote Labour. If you want a bunch of inbred aristocratic cretins who think they have a right to rule because their great-grandmother slept with the Queen, vote Tory. Me, I want a Liberal and Democratic government, so I’m voting Liberal Democrat.

But if the Liberal Democrats come third, I won’t go stamping my feet and demanding that Nick Clegg get to be Prime Minister anyway, as Labour supporters are already doing. Because I am mature enough to know that ‘coming third’ is not the same as ‘winning’.

The second part of my Beginners’ Guide will be up tonight.

The Liberal Moment

David Cameron argues in today’s Observer that as far as ‘progressive’ (shudder) policies go, there is little distance between the Lib Dems and the Tories, and we should be working together. His case is very superficially convincing – until you remember their slogan from the last election, If You Want A Nigger For Your Neighbour, Vote Labour It’s Not Racist To Impose Limits On Immigration. And indeed, until you actually look at everything the Conservatives stand for.

Cameron is trying to recreate the ‘big tent’ informal coalition that Blair and Ashdown had in 1997, trying to get us to unite against Labour as we previously united against the Tories (by the major party definition of ‘unite’ which is ‘agree with us in everything we do, even when we’re quite clearly insane’. See also Liberal Conspiracy’s idea of big-tent coalition), but it’s fundamentally misguided. His piece is just inane drivel, and its main reason for existing appears to be to try to persuade people considering the Lib Dems that the Tories would be the same – about as far from the truth as it gets.

The reason for Cameron writing this now – other than as a spoiler for the Lib Dem conference – is because Nick Clegg has just put out his most significant contribution to liberal thought so far, a pamphlet called Liberal Moment , which seems to skewer hopes of a Tory/Lib Dem alliance for good.

In the past, I’ve never been hugely impressed by Clegg as leader, but one thing I’ve always thought impressive was the way he could articulate genuinely liberal views, but in a way that would appeal to the Daily Mail crowd (something that other people, notably Alix Mortimer, have seen as a downside). However, here he is instead putting forward a case for Liberal values as part of a progressive strand of thought, which I’m far more comfortable with.

‘Progressive’ is a much-abused term, but reading through Clegg’s paper, one can see a rough definition emerging – for Clegg, ‘progressive’ appears to mean a commitment to both freedom and equality.

Clegg’s analysis – actually similar to the Blairite ‘big tent’ analysis of the mid-90s – is that there is a fundamental split between ‘progressives’ in this sense and conservatives, but that there is a further split in the progressive side between, roughly, those who think equality is important insofar as it helps bring about greater freedom, who gravitate toward the Liberal Democrats (and before them the Liberal Party) and those who think freedom is important insofar as it helps bring about greater equality, who gravitate toward the Labour Party.

Clegg argues – correctly in my view – that the two are natural allies, despite their very real differences. He then goes on to talk about how the Labour Party overtook the Liberal Party as the dominant progressive force in British politics in the early part of the 20th century, partly as a result of electoral pacts between the two, partly because of the splits within the Liberals themselves and their partial abandonment of some of their principles, but also – as he, rather uniquely for a Liberal (Democrat) admits – because the social democratic/democratic socialist principles of the Labour Party genuinely had something to add.

However, he argues that right now, top-down, centralised, statist governance is a bad idea, for much the same reasons I argue here, and that the failures of the Labour government have been linked to its authoritarian tendencies and wish to micromanage every part of people’s lives:

So this pamphlet starts and finishes with a particular view about the great differences in the Labour and Liberal traditions of progressive thought, and an assertion that as Labour heads fordefeat at the next election the future of progressive politics lies in liberalism. In much the same way that Labour was on the right side of events over a century ago when the Liberal party was not, I will argue that a reverse ‘switch’ in which the Liberal Democrats can become the dominant progressive force in British politics is now more possible than ever before.

What Clegg is definitely not doing here is using ‘liberal’ as a synonym for moderate, as most people appear to (see for example this post by Lawrence Miles – ” To be a liberal means to shield yourself from the full horror of your society, to have a veneer of civic responsibility while still approving of a system that’s wholly founded on exploitation.” That’s what ‘liberal’ in the USian/Liberal Conspiracy sense means, but has little to do with real liberalism).

Unfortunately, in the past the Lib Dems have, in our PR if not in our actions, encouraged that understanding of ‘liberalism’ as being smack in the middle (see, for example, this incredibly irritating bit of Littlejohnism from John Cleese. This mostly came about with the alliance of the Liberal Party with the SDP – who really *were* moderate centrists with fairly wooly ideas. The old joke “What do we want? Moderate change! When do we want it? In due course!” has sometimes been all too accurate when it comes to the ‘message’ the party has put out, even though since at least the early 90s we have been far more radical in our demands for change than either of the major parties.

In truth, Liberalism is, as Clegg is finally stating explicitly, a coherent political philosophy in its own right, equidistant from both the two major parties but in the same way the apex of an isoceles triangle is equidistant from the points at the base – further away from either than they are from each other.

Clegg ‘[refuses] to even contemplate’ ‘fall[ing] in line with Gordon Brown to hold back the rise of the Conservatives’ because in the ways that matter Labour and the Conservatives are largely indistinguishable, but he recognises in this paper that many of the aims of Labour members and supporters are ones that many Lib Dem members share. Fundamentally, though Clegg never puts it quite this way, the Lib Dem disagreement with Labour is about means, whereas with the Tories it’s about ends. Lib Dems don’t believe that government micromanagement can ever deliver a fairer world as Labour believe – let alone a freer world, which is what we want even more. But the Tories’ ‘solution’ – to punish the poor and disenfranchised for their position in society – is no solution at all.

There are individual aspects to Liberal Moment with which I find myself disagreeing – the involvement of victims in the justice system is always something that worries me, so the proposals for allowing vandals to say sorry to their victims and negotiate a way to make amends with them rather than going through the court system sound troubling. But that’s a minor point.

A more major one was pointed out by Gavin R in the comments here, when I linked this paper on Friday:

a keyword search suggests a worrying trend. Just look at these word frequencies in a text of about 70 pages:

women: 2
woman: 1
gender: 0
sex: 0
sexuality: 0
patriarchy: 0
gay: 0

Which is a very good point, and I for one would have liked to have seen something about how liberal values apply to those areas – especially as they’re a very obvious area in which we differ from the other two parties. I always liked Alex Wilcock’s suggestions for party slogans – “Liberal Democrats: the party that says sex is all right” and “To tell the Daily Mail to fuck off, vote Lib Dem”. It would have helped to contextualise the much-hyped “Real Women” policy discussion Jo Swinson is leading, as well, minor aspects of which (changing ASA rules so adverts containing photoshopped pictures would have to have a disclaimer) have been rather over-publicised, outside of a larger policy context.

But overall, Liberal Moment does its job – to put Lib Dem policy ideas into a larger political/philosophical context, and to make a clear argument for the Liberal worldview. It’s not going to replace Mill any time soon, but as a flag in the ground, saying “HERE is why we’re not Tories, and HERE is why Labour are wrong” it’s far better than I dared hope from a leader who has previously appeared to be a bit of a lightweight.

More like this, please.

Linkblogging for 01/12/08

No proper posts today, I’m afraid – I’m off work with a hacking cough, sore throat and, for some reason, aching legs, and for some reason am finding literally everything hysterically funny. I’m terribly afraid that if I try to write anything properly today, I’ll wake up tomorrow and just find a post that says “I’ve got legs! Look! Two of them!” So here are some things that other people have written:

Fred Clark points out that the bad acting in Left Behind: The Movie is symptomatic of its bad theology.

Pillock on Mark Millar – “It’s a terrible thing to start out John Lydon and end up Jeph Loeb”. Indeed – though I would also say it’s a terrible thing to start out John Lydon and end up advertising butter…

Jennie has some choice words to say about Nick Clegg after he (allegedly) made some particularly stupid remarks in front of a journalist. I’ve got a lot to say on this at some point when I’m coherent, but it boils down to a) Clegg wouldn’t have been the leader I’d have chosen, b) despite that I think he’s doing a pretty decent job, and c) I’ve never yet met him so can’t judge him on a personal level. At the same time, what she says doesn’t surprise me at all…

The Independent in something worth reading shocker – a really good interview with Terry Pratchett . Of course, the same issue also had an article headed “Don’t panic! We can go skiing and save the planet” which was the worst kind of middle-class pseudo-environmentalist self-justifying consumerist wank imaginable, so it doesn’t look like it’s the start of a new trend in a paper which goes visibly downhill almost by the day since the new editor took over after doing much the same to the Observer...

And amypoodle at Mindless Ones has some stuff to say about Batman RIP, to which I will be returning myself once I’m semi-lucid.

On LibDemmery

For those of you who are waiting for them, you can expect an influx of posts tonight/tomorrow. My local comic shop didn’t have any copies of Final Crisis: Superman Beyond , so I am venturing into the murky depths of Forbidden Planet. Pray for me. This means that that review will be tonight. I’ve also got the next piece on Brian Wilson halfway written, and I’ll be doing the usual Big Finish post tomorrow too.

But for now I want to talk about politics. Alix at The People’s Republic of Mortimer wrote a post yesterday which touched on some things I wanted to say about the Liberal Democrats.

I actually agree with almost everything she says – and yet I still think she’s wrong. For those of you who don’t follow this stuff, the Liberal Democrats (the party of which I am a member) recently put out a document called Make It Happen, full of pictures of Our Dear Leader looking as dishy as he can make himself, and full of very short sentences about it being ‘time for a change’.

Now, in this document, the phrase ‘ordinary families’ occurs to the point of obsession, and I absolutely agree with Ms Mortimer that the repetition of this phrase is both wildly irritating and smacks of illiberalism – what of the extraordinary? What of those who aren’t families at all?

I absolutely hate that kind of wording – I’m married, but I wouldn’t consider my wife and myself a ‘family’, we’re a couple, and I don’t think either of us would be less entitled to respect were we single – and it worries me, but I think on the whole it’s the right thing to be doing at the moment.

I didn’t vote for Nick Clegg, and I’m on the left of the party and not really keen on the Orange Bookers who currently have most of the power in the parliamentary party, some of whom seem quite eager to become a third Conservative party to go with the two we’ve already got [Edit April 2009 ignore that – I was talking crap], but one thing which almost persuaded me to vote for Clegg – and which I singled out at the time – is his ability to put liberal values into the language of the Mail and the Express without compromising those values.

I’ve argued for a while now that we need to be trying to get votes from the Tories, not from Labour, because the Tories are going to win the next election and Labour lose no matter what we do. Even did I not personally (slightly) prefer Labour to the Tories, I would still argue pragmatically that it is better for the party to have the Conservative majority be as small as possible, and so we should concentrate on winning seats in Tory marginals (the Labour marginals should fall to us anyway – they’re low-hanging fruit). If we can’t win the next election – and realistically we can’t – we can try to push for a hung parliament where we would be the balance of power.

Now, documents like Make It Happen, repulsive as I find the way they’re phrased, work perfectly for attracting Tory voters. I would like us to be able to reframe the terms of debate in this country, but right now the vast majority of people aren’t reading the Independent or Guardian – they’re reading the Mail or the Sun. If we can convince them to support liberal positions – without changing those positions, just the way they’re presented – then I think that’s a wholly good thing. Make It Happen doesn’t seem to have been aimed at me or Ms Mortimer – we’re already on-side.

It’s only if the change in rhetoric becomes a change in policy that we have to worry – and indeed I am worried about that – but the actual policies in the document make sense. I think we’ve already got most of the extraordinary on side – and with an activist base as full of bisexuals, transsexuals, poly people, goths and large men with beards as ours is, I don’t think it’s ever likely that they will not be catered to – we need to get the ordinary families on side too…