Wednesday, 12 May 2010

That coalition decision

Duncan Borrowman, a member of the Federal Executive, wrote on his blog last night:
"Tonight, as a member of the Liberal Democrat Federal Executive, I took part in the joint meeting of the Federal Executive and Parliamentary Party.

"I attended with a heavy heart, I have fought the Conservatives for decades, I entered thinking there was a 90% chance that I would vote against the deal on the table. I was wrong. Of all the Liberal Democrat MPs, all the Liberal Democrat Peers (who don't technically have a vote) and all the Federal Executive, in three separate votes after nearly 3 hours of discussion, only the hand of one Federal Executive member went up against what we had before us. No member of the Parliamentary Party voted against. Out of over 100 people voting, only one voted against.

"So why did I vote for the package?

"Despite what I have now seen on the rolling news, the package, which I had in my hand to read in full, was packed with Liberal Democrat policies. I could not turn down what the package had to offer.

"I read the package, and in the detail I could not put my hand on my heart and oppose it. Indeed, I am delighted that we will get a government that will introduce a wide range of Liberal Democrat policies on Civil Liberties, the Economy, the Environment and Political Reform.

"But on the flip side, what were the alternatives? Labour bottled it, they did not want a coalition, that was clear. As much as I would have liked to explore it, a Labour or Rainbow coalition, the so called 'progressive coalition' was kicked into the long grass by the Labour Party.

"The other option was a Conservative minority government, lasting months, with us being rightly lambasted for not exhibiting the grown up politics we have preached. We would rightly have been laughed out of town. Instead we get stable government for a fixed term of 5 years.

"I voted with my head, and while my heart does not make me a natural friend of the Tories, I also voted with my heart for a policy document that is strongly Liberal. All along the process that I have spent three evenings this week in meetings with colleagues has been about getting Liberal Democrat policies in action. It has been about not sitting on the fence and shouting from the outside, but about making a positive contribution from the inside.

"I will sleep easy tonight that I have played my part in history and done the right thing."

It is noteworthy that the agreement was endorsed by peers and MPs without dissent, and with only one vote against on the Federal Executive, which is very large and very representative (elected by a preferential vote, naturally!). This group includes those who vigorously fight Conservatives in England, as well as Labour and the Nationalists elsewhere.

It is also clear that, Peter Hain, Andrew Adonis and, possibly, Alan Johnson apart, senior figures in the Labour Party were not really serious about forging an alliance with the Liberal Democrats. As a Liberal Democrat spokesman said yesterday:

Key members of Labour's negotiating team gave every impression of wanting the process to fail and Labour made no attempt at all to agree a common approach with the Liberal Democrats on issues such as fairer schools funding for the most deprived pupils and taking those on low incomes out of tax.

It became clear to the Liberal Democrats that certain key Labour cabinet ministers were determined to undermine any agreement by holding out on policy issues and suggesting that Labour would not deliver on proportional representation and might not marshal the votes to secure even the most modest form of electoral reform.

It is clear that some people in the Labour Party see opposition as a more attractive alternative to the challenges of creating a progressive, reforming government, not least in the context of a Labour leadership election campaign.

The Labour Party will now have the opportunity to resolve its internal differences which have been suppressed while they have been in government. An outsider's impression is that the process will not be as bloody as that in the 1980s, and the political process will be all the better for that. They do have to examine how they came to be suckered into the Thatcherite view of the economy while in government, though.


Maelo Manning said...

This is the clearest piece of writing I have seen about the coalition. It makes it easier for me to understand what has happened.

Frank H Little said...

It is good, isn't it? Duncan Borrowman is a communications professional, so it ought to be!

There is a lot of good stuff on Liberal Democrat Voice, as well, but I expect you have already discovered that.