Monday 10 May 2010

No to cuts yes to PR

This has got a little overtaken by events but is mostly still relevant......

No to cuts yes to PR

Socialist Resistance editorial statement 10.5.10

The outcome of the general election was the one long predicted, with no party winning a majority. Labour lost and the Tories failed to win. The Lib Dems lost the surge they had expected and the result was the first hung Parliament for over 30 years. The Lib Dems got 25% of the votes and under 10% of the seats.

None of them received the mandate they had wanted in order to implement their cuts agendas in the face of an escalating economic crisis. Whatever government emerges, therefore, the workers movement has to gear itself up for a fight on cuts.

The election arithmetic has made the Lib Dems the power broker in any post-election coalition arrangements, however, giving them the best opportunity for several generations to change the scandalous voting system with which Britain is saddled. If they blow this opportunity they will face another very long period of time rendered irrelevant by a corrupt and bizarre electoral system which awards power to political parties with scant regard to the votes they receive.

Clegg has gone to the Tories first, presumably on the basis of comments extracted from him during the campaign, to discuss a possible Tory/Lib Dem coalition on the basis of electoral reform. It is a dangerous game. Cameron responded with a typically disingenuous offer and will follow it up with cabinet positions and a taste of power for the Lib Dems to help make his offer more palatable.

Moreover, these negotiations are taking place during a crisis of the EU and growing financial instability which were sparked by the crisis and conflict taking place in Greece and which threatens to spread across southern Europe and beyond. There is a real danger that this will be used to bounce the Lib Dems into supporting the Tory cuts agenda.

This is an extremely dangerous game that the Lib Dems are playing. The Tories will stop at nothing to get their hands on the levers of power and then cling onto it. They will hope for a honeymoon period on the basis of the disingenuous manipulation of policy whilst looking for a chance for an early general election.

There is now a huge campaign by the Tory media to push the Lib Dems into the clutches of the Tories. The chance of the Tories making a genuine offer on electoral reform, however, is remote, and if they do they will ensure that it is deal they can break. The Tories will stop at nothing to preserve the status quo. They occupied government throughout more of the 20th century than any other party on the basis of first-passed-the-post, and their aim is to repeat the performance in the 21st century.

Meanwhile the priority of the Tories is to get their cuts budget through in the fastest possible time and are no doubt putting heavy pressure on the Lib Dems over this. But any deal the Lib Dems might make in order to allow them to get this through either as part of a coalition arrangement or as a deal to keep a minority Tory administration in office would not only be disastrous for the working class but ultimately disastrous for the Liberal Dems themselves — given their stance in the election campaign.

The alternative is for the Lib Dems to seek a deal with New Labour and the nationalist parties, a combination of which could also command a Commons majority. This would be no less democratic than a Tory/Lib Dem arrangement since between them Labour and the Lid Dems won 14 million votes against the Tories 10 million.

True the Lib Dems were stitched up by Tony Blair, of course, over PR after 1997. He made an agreement with them and then kicked it into the long grass when he didn’t need them any more. Brown, however, is in a very different position. A deal with the Lib Dems is the best option open for new Labour for the foreseeable future and it would be worth a genuine offer of proportional representation, which appears to be what he has offered. It would also make a future majority Tory government very unlikely since they would have to win more than 50% of the vote.

Brown has already made the offer of early legislation and an early referendum on electoral reform, though there may well be a demand for him to resign and open the door to a new Labour leader before a deal can be struck

This makes more political sense from a Lib Dem point of view than deal with the Tories — which would be bitterly controversial within their own party. They are closer to new Labour than they are to the Tories and if they go in with the Tories they would soon be faced with supporting a George Osborne emergency budget costing millions of jobs.

For such a Lib/Lab coalition to play any kind of progressive role, however, it would have to be based on two key conditions: one is genuine electoral reform in advance of the next general election based on proportional representation and the other is the abandonment of the cuts agenda as an approach to the economic crisis and its replacement by an agenda based on a programme of recovery through planned investment in green jobs.

No comments: