Friday, 25 June 2010

The Lib-Con Coalition - Is this unlikely political marriage destined for an early divorce?

Those who voted Liberal Democrat in the recent General Election, and have seen their vote be essentially 'disregarded' by leader Nick Clegg's decision to join with the Conservative Party, will probably already see the 'Lib-Con' coalition as less an unlikely political union and more a sham marriage borne out of convenience and Mr. Clegg's desire to chum up to David Cameron and occupy the corridors of power at whatever cost to his party and its ideological foundations. Whilst Clegg appears to have managed to bed himself in to the Conservative Party with consummate ease, the transition seems to have been far more difficult for others in his party. The sight of Nick Clegg, a man whom many placed their faith in as a true 'alternative' to Labour and the Conservatives, who would revolutionise British politics and facilitate the creation of a true three-party system, playing second-fiddle to David Cameron in the House of Commons, is rather sickening. Whereas Clegg clearly had the upper hand in the televised election debates, with Gordon Brown and David Cameron clamouring to be the first to say, 'I agree with Nick', the roles have reversed somewhat. Clegg appears to have been demoted to little more than Cameron's loyal terrier, nodding whenever the great man reveals yet another policy in almost total contravention of the core beliefs of most Liberal Democrat MPs. Clearly this is the price Clegg has decided to pay for a position of power, and it is equally obvious that he feels it to be a price worth paying.

However in the midst of all the glamour, influence and notoriety associated with the position of Deputy Prime Minister, is Clegg at risk of splitting his party? I would feel that, should the Tories' savage cuts and somewhat unfair tax rises continue, as they almost certainly will, that Nick Clegg will be placing many of his best and brightest party members in extremely difficult positions indeed. An ideological split in the coalition is by no means unpreventable, but any schism within the Liberal Democrats would have far more negative effects on its already slight electoral chances. Divisions along the lines of those experienced by the Labour Party during its wildnerness years in the 1950s, between the Gaitskellites on the right of the party, and the Bevanites on the left, as well as those over Britain's role in the European Economic Community which tore the Conservatives apart during the 1990s, would be devastating for the Liberal Democrats. Personally I feel that Nick Clegg is playing an extremely dangerous game with the future of the party he represents, for whilst he may be satisfied with a full-time role as David Cameron's official lackey, I very much doubt that grassroots Lib Dems will put up with the core tenets of their political ideology being so readily abandoned in favour of an alliance with the Conservatives. Whilst the Lib-Con Alliance appears to have survived Chancellor George Osbourne's announcement of a budget that seems to be largely bereft of Liberal Democrat input and influence, will it survive the many questions that have to be answered and the many issues that require a solution over the next few years? With Lord Browne's tuition fee review due to be published in the Autumn, I wonder if, given the Liberal Democrats' staunch commitment to the abolition of fees, but the imbalance of power in the coalition in favour of the Tories, who would emerge victorious in the power struggle that would likely ensue? My money would be on David Cameron's Conservatives, and if this were to happen, I would be very surprised if Lib Dem politicians such as Chris Huhne, Danny Alexander and Vince Cable were willing to continue with a power-sharing arrangement that is clearly not in the interests of most Lib Dems.

The Trident issue is another potential area for future conflict, with both the Conservatives and Labour likely to support its renewal, and the Liberal Democrats, at least according to their election manifesto, entirely opposed to any such motion. I can only conclude by saying that whilst Nick Clegg certainly appears to have abandoned the principles, commitment to genuine change and ability to put party needs above his own, selfish desire for power, conflict may well be brewing under the surface of the coalition. Vince Cable's somewhat awkward demeanour during last night's Question Time seemed to confirm the difficulty he, and many other Lib Dems are having in adapting to the new state of affairs. Perhaps a change of direction is needed, but with Clegg appearing to be nothing short of 'in Cameron's pocket', from where would it come? The pursuit of power may have been placed above the sanctity of ideology for the moment, but for how much longer? With many difficult questions and tricky decisions to be taken over the coming months by the Lib-Con coalition, we will see whether or not this 'marriage of political convenience' is destined for divorce once the honeymoon period is over. We can only hope that the Liberal Democrats' participation in this coalition, and experience of being in the corridors of power benefits the party in the long-term, but I somehow doubt it will. With rumblings of disquiet already evident amongst certain sections of the party, how long will it take before these rumblings turn into outright rebellion? Nick Clegg ought to be very careful that he doesn't forget which party he is actually representing, because over the past few weeks he has increasingly come to represent an archetypal Tory. Perhaps he will re-locate his pride and principles, or maybe Cameron will decide he doesn't need a lickspittle after all. Whatever happens, maybe Ms. Clegg ought to purchase her husband a jumbo pack of smart yellow ties, just so he doesn't give in to temptation and wear that rather fetching blue one to work instead.

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