Posted Under: Elections,Labour,Liberal Democrats,Tories
Like most readers of this blog, the Budget made me pretty angry – the VAT increase and tighter controls on benefits combined with the cut in corporation tax make a complete mockery of the claims that this Budget was ‘progressive’ in any sense, and millions of the poorest and most vulnerable people in this country will be worse off because of it. But this has been said by any number of people with far more expertise than me in great detail already, so I don’t intend to go over the same ground. What I want to write about is the overwhelming desire I have, now that a supposedly centre-left party is colluding with Tories to bring in the most regressive economic measures in decades, to grab every soi-disant leftie I know who voted Lib Dem and shout ‘Is this what you wanted? Is it? Osborne’s going to be able to do everything Thatcher didn’t have the guts to do, and you helped it happen!’ in their smug self-deluding faces. But I want to write about it because I don’t think that reaction’s justified, no matter how strong its appeal might be. Yes, a blue-yellow coalition was always a possibility under a hung parliament, and one that those voting for the Lib Dems should have borne in mind. But that’s all it was; a possibility, not an inevitability. And in any case, it’s hard to judge people too harshly for turning away from Labour when you consider so much of the record of the Blair and Brown governments.
First, consider the actual election result. Thanks to the random vagaries of our electoral system, no one could have predicted the result we got. A hung parliament was always quite likely, of course, but the specific result of a hung parliament where Labour and the Lib Dems didn’t have a majority between them wasn’t something anyone predicted. And it’s because of this result that the Lib Dems didn’t really have many options open to them other than getting into bed with Cameron and friends; remember that Labour was pretty openly against Alex Salmond’s suggestion of a centre-left ‘rainbow coalition’ and that pretty much no party save the Tories really had the money to fight another election campaign (which would have been the likely result of a minority Conservative government). There weren’t many options open to the Liberal Democrats after the election, and none were appealing.
As for those who actually voted for the Lib Dems, it’s easy to criticise them in hindsight, now that we know what we do about how things turned out. But equally there were a hell of a lot of good reasons for people to turn away from Labour, and – given our first past the post system – not many credible alternatives in most parts of the country. The reforms to jobseekers’ and disability living allowance being introduced now are atrocious, but we shouldn’t forget that the benefits system was already pretty damn draconian – a point made by our own Dan during the election campaign and more recently by Laurie Penny at the New Statesman. Then there were the attacks on civil liberties (and for all the hateful shit the coalition’s doing, we can at least be thankful that ID cards and the vetting and barring scheme are on the way out), the privatisations, the corruption, the utter failure to do anything meaningful about climate change, the warmongering…it’s a familiar list, and one that could be made a lot longer. I voted Labour because my local MP was opposed to most of that, but if I lived in an area where that wasn’t the case I’d find putting a cross next to that red rose logo on the ballot paper a lot harder to stomach.
Laying the blame for the coalition’s failings at the feet of those who voted Lib Dem is easy and very tempting. It was, in retrospect, a serious error. But it was an understandable error, and what’s more, it’s an error that many Lib Dem voters are now recognising. The left cause won’t be helped by going on about it. Right now we need to do everything we can to minimise the damage the government’s going to do to the social fabric of the UK. Turning on each other over past differences really isn’t going to help.