Commentary and opinion on national and regional politics by Seema Malhotra

Monday, 10 May 2010

Nick Clegg: Damned if he doesn't, damned if he does

Listening to Laura Kuenssberg, Ben Wright and other BBC journalists this morning, it's pretty clear that there is still only one story in town. The Lib Dems and Conservatives are set to resume talks this morning, and there is every expectation that by the time the leaders meet their parties later today there will at least be an early deal on offer. Nick Clegg will rightly be tempted by the first opportunity for the Liberals to sit in Government for 90 years. The problem for him, however, is that in taking the prize now, the consequence could be the end of the Lib Dems.
Firstly, many voted Lib Dem to tactically keep the Tories out in Labour seats. They will now find their votes being used to prop up a Tory administration. Secondly, many in the Lib Dems are progressives, who have a commitment to public services and a view of social justice that gives more common ground with Labour. They will now be voting with a Tory manifesto they went to the country to fight against. Thirdly, the election saw a loss in Lib Dem seats, though the 6 million votes that the Lib Dems achieved is very significant. However many votes were for Nick Clegg based on his debate performances, less than for Lib Dem policies. The problem being of course that this wasnt a presidential election, and the harsh reality of party politics and Parliamentary processes are about to kick in. Finally, there are those who voted for the Lib Dems because of the promise of electoral reform. With Labour having been behind reform too, this would be another completion of a progressive project of reform that was started in 1997 but not finished. If what is delivered is watered down by the Tories, Lib Dem supporters may well feel sold out by Clegg. And indeed, once it is delivered, the Lib Dems will need to redefine what they are about and why people should vote Lib Dem. The divisions between different camps in what is essentially a franchise party could make this very difficult for a party that in many ways has been a single issue campaign. The Lib Dems could very well become the first victim of their own success.