Sunday, May 16, 2010

Moving swiftly on

Well, that was grim, wasn't it? I refer, of course, to the new government. Having read through the coalition agreement, I'm almost convinced by Charlie and Jamie's argument that it's really not that bad. Almost. I'm not particularly worried by the supposed 55% thing either, for reasons well explained here - it's fairly obviously an attempt to self-bind, a costly signal of commitment to cement the deal, and it's probably content-free.

On the other hand, there's the NAMELESS DREAD. It's pre-rational, emotional, Lovecraftesque...political. And look at some of the gargoyles and Queen's bad bargains in the government. Also, Vince Cable at the Mandelsonministerium is a reasonably good idea, but couldn't we have got at least one real job? Obviously, the Tories couldn't have worn a Liberal foreign secretary for ideological reasons.

What went wrong with this post? I think the key unexamined assumption was that the Labour Party could be treated as a united actor for negotiating purposes; I didn't take into account that significant numbers of backbench MPs wouldn't support a coalition or wouldn't support an electoral reform bill. I still believe that significant numbers of Tory backbenchers will rebel, but the coalition whips have more leverage over them with the Liberals as a reserve pool. Obviously, it's telling that the Labour whipping operation would pick this moment, rather than - say - March 2003, to break down.

It's also telling just who was lobbying the Labour backbenches; David Blunkett, John Reid, and Charles Clarke! The three monkeys of Blairite authoritarianism, a sort of negative triumvirate of failed home secretaries. Because, after all, as I said about identity cards back in 2004, we are going to win. That is, in fact, the only good thing here; the achievement of NO2ID and Phil Booth is that all political parties except one went into the 2010 general election pledged to abolish the National Identity Scheme. And, crucially, the civil service gets it - I hear that IPS is actively looking at contingency plans as to what to do with its officials when the NIS shuts down, how to cancel the contracts, disposing of office space and kit, that kind of stuff.

Hilariously, my dad spent quite a lot of time trying to get the IPS to give him an identity card, in order to demonstrate various flaws in the process - he was eventually issued one after the intervention of the chief of identity cards. He's now trying to decide whether to sell it on EBay or frame it. Does anyone have suggestions as to what to do with an British National Identity Card?

So, no ID cards, no NIR, no ContactPoint. Home Office junior ministers have swung from people like Phil Woolas to Lynne Featherstone. I should be delighted. But then, yes, nameless dread. I agree that it wasn't so long ago that it looked like we'd get Dave from PR with a majority of 100, so I should be pleased that the damage control exercise has been a success. But, no. Perhaps I should concentrate on MySociety stuff; perhaps I should concentrate on London politics. I have no idea if I'm going to stay a Liberal member.

One thing that will be happening is a new blog patterned on Boriswatch that will be covering our Stable and Principled new government, especially the unstable and unprincipled bits.Check out our statistical model of coalition survival, which is currently showing them sticking it out for the full five years...yup, nameless dread all right.


Richard Young said...

I'm genuinely puzzled by the fact that so many Liberals see this coalition as a betrayal. For a start, it's not new: the oft-cited Birmingham case demonstrates it can work.

Second, isn't this the whole point of PR? You need to be able to compromise and work with other parties without actually junking your beliefs or your ability to differentiate yourself with the electorate.

Third, if the Tories really are eternally damned in your eyes - and I can see why people might think they ought to be - then there was no point being a LibDem in the first place. The Labour party is a fairly broad church, I'm sure you could have found a home there - and since it's now clear a lot of LDs feel they could only ever have gone into coalition with them anyway, why hadn't they gone the whole hog years ago?

Finally, what, really, can the Tories in this coalition do in the next five years? Their civil liberties agenda is bracing compared to Labour, they can't afford any cool new military toys (at least in the short term) or cut taxes for the wealthy. Indeed, CGT going up is... well, it's the sort of thing you'd have expected Labour to do. I instinctively distrust Silicone Dave and *everyone* loathes Osborne, it seems. But it's only fair to see what they actually *do*.

Personally, I'd stick with the LDs. They need all the help they can get right now, and the more people who cry "betrayal" citing nameless dread, the more entrenched the two-party system is going to get. And who knows: if the coalition works - and if the nameless dread never materialises - maybe the LD position will shore up at the next election. (Hey, it's a long-shot...)

(I speak as a former Owen-ite SDPer; most of my former SDPY&S comrades ended up as leading lights for the Tories - but the fact I didn't hopefully bolsters my argument. I accept you can argue the history of the rump SDP is hardly a great advert for "sticking with it"!)

Charlie Stross said...

I share your Nameless Dread.

I'm just hoping this works out better than 1979 ...

Tom Steinberg said...

>Perhaps I should concentrate on MySociety stuff



Anonymous said...

On the one hand there is the agreement, on the other hand there is the fact that the Conservatives have their hands on the main levers of power. The LibDem and Conservative positions on many issues, as set out in their manifestos, are miles apart. So a watch-blog is a good idea, as something interesting is bound to happen sooner or later.

Writing politely to your local LibDems asking what will happen when X, Y, Z happens could also be interesting. But whatever you do, don't send them that photo of Broon shaking hands with Maggie that they used on their election leaflets!


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