A Lib-Con marriage for how long?

A Lib-Con marriage for how long?

“Roll up, roll up, everyone’s a winner!” That’s what the British electorate were told by the media in the run up to the general election. On the back of a post-election auction for power, however, it’s apparent that everyone’s a loser. No one party was able to secure a majority, and we now have a cobbled together and possibly unstable government on the back of horse trading that occurred in the wake of the election.

After days of negotiations, the Lib Dems finally decided to support the Conservatives. David Cameron is the new PM, and a number of Lib-Dems have been offered seats in the Cabinet.

Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats failed to win as many seats as they hoped to, and, despite having a fair wind, in the form of very rich backers for the election campaign and an unpopular incumbent government, Cameron’s Conservatives were unable to draw enough support to achieve a parliamentary majority and convince the electorate that they are fit to govern. The resultant Lib-Con alliance is a case of winners by default.
While Labour were already unpopular with the electorate, the Lib Dems in recent days have also fallen foul of the public by appearing as opportunists, and fingers have been pointed at Cameron from within his own party for having failed to make sufficient impact during the campaign and for doing deals with the left leaning Liberal Democrats Party. A rocky foundation upon which to build a coalition.

The inevitable

Many in Clegg’s party feel very uncomfortable with Conservative policies and perceive the alliance to be a bad move. However, going into partnership with Labour would have been tricky because the support of other minor parties would have been required as well. And the public may not have forgiven the Lib Dems for propping up a Labour government, which had effectively lost the election. With the help of the right wing press, a ‘rainbow alliance’ of the progressive centre left may have been regarded by the public as constituting a ‘coalition of the losers’.

On Monday, in a last ditch attempt to undermine the Lib Dem negotiations with the Conservatives, Brown played his master stroke by saying he would step down as PM and party leader, thus smoothing the way to do business with Clegg, who is reported to have regarded Brown as a stumbling block to forming an alliance. Despite Brown’s failed tactic, many in the Labour Party were highly sceptical of forming a unstable partnership with the Lib Dems and others, which could haven fallen apart much sooner rather than later, leaving Labour even more unpopular.

With some policy concessions made to the Lib Dems, the Lib-Con alliance will now proceed with the Conservative Party’s agenda of huge cuts across the public sector, slashing jobs and services in the hope of cutting the 169 billion pound public deficit. The fear is that this will undermine economic growth, which is key to cutting the debt, and perhaps prompt another recession. If growth is undermined, bankers, debt ratings agencies and speculators may take decisions that could impact negatively on government bonds and borrowing charges and plunge the economy into deeper trouble. With an unstable alliance at the helm, we could then be heading for another general election.

A Lib-Con alliance might at least allow Labour to regroup in opposition and emerge with a new leader at the helm. It would then be better positioned to fight another election within the next 12 months or so. The theory goes that, by that time, the Lib-Con alliance would have imploded due to internal divisions within both parties as a direct result of going into bed with one another, and it would have also become a highly unpopular partnership with the electorate. While, in the long term, the Conservatives could recover, the Liberal Democrats might not be able to go against the wishes of many of the party’s left leaning supporters. Clegg and his party could be the biggest eventual loser.

As a consequence of Conservative policies and a possible deepening economic crisis, there may well be growing popular resistance to a government assault on living standards and services. Torn apart by internal divisions and with ongoing economic problems, both the Lib Dems and Conservatives could lose heavily to Labour in the next general election. Much of that, however, depends on Labour.

Will the Labour Party move away from its current ‘it’s too soon to cut’ approach and support the trade unions by mounting a proper defence of the public sector? It remains to be seen if it can relinquish its New Labour agenda and return to power as the party of the left, while trying to bring on board disgruntled Lib Dem supporters, and offer real alternatives to failing neo-liberal economic policies.

Meanwhile, Britain has to brace itself for a period of turmoil and possible unstable government. And, when the going gets tough, as it will, an already divided Lib Dem Party may well decide to jump ship from the alliance. The Brits may be heading back to the polls much sooner than they think.