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Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Lib Dems = Tories?

I've had a short but revealing chat on twitter with Stephen Noon, a post-graduate student who works for the SNP "on its message and manifesto".

In response to his tweet anouncing that The Sun in Scotland is supporting the SNP, I suggested this this is hardly a surprise. This is a paper owned by Rupert Murdoch, whose media empire generally supports the Tories in elections. It's a predictable tactic for The Sun to support the SNP in Scotland in order to damage Labour. Whether that is right or wrong is irrelevant - I just don't think even the SNP can feign surprise or deduce anything significant from this endorsement. (I am also uncomfortable with the election becoming a Sun v Daily Record battleground.)

Mr Noon then rapidly progressed to the usual hysteria: "the Lib Dems back the Tories in England too, so that makes them a Tory Party". So, we're Tories. The SNP say it, so it must be true.

What about the coalitions with Labour then, in 1999 and 2003. Could Labour be accused on "backing" the Lib Dems? Could the Lib Dems be accused of "backing" Labour? "You made a Tory PM, that's backing them" came the juvenile reply.

I like engaging with people on twitter. I don't have to agree with them, but it helps when they're rational. Frankly, I would have expected a bit more than glib simplicities from someone who is, after all, a postgraduate student.

Of course I then asked my SNP friend whether he would have preferred the Lib Dems to have instead backed Gordon Brown? "A strange answer" was all he could say. Strange? Not at all - especially as Alex Salmond at the time was promoting a rainbow coalition to keep Brown in power. If that isn't trying to "make" a PM against the wishes of the democratic verdict of the voters I don't know what is. And there were only two alternatives to propping up Brown - allowing the Tories to run a minority administration or entering into full coalition. Both would have resulted in Cameron being PM.

"I'm happy to leave this to the voters' judgement" came the response. Yes, of course. The voters were allowed to judge last year and gave Cameron the highest number of seats. The democratic voice of the people is a minor inconvenience to some, but when you're trying to negotiate a stable government it makes sense to talk to the party that's just won the most seats.

On this basis, the SNP don't seem to be interested in the more intellectually rigourous argument about the merits - or otherwise - of the coalition, preferring the easy option of claiming that Lib Dems are Tories. This really is perverse logic. What if, for example, after the election either the Lib Dems or the Greens go into coalition with the SNP? Would that make them Nationalists? Please!

It is one thing for the public to negatively perceive the Lib Dem - Conservative coalition deal. It is something else when supposedly responsible party workers indulge in simplistic and prejudiced rhetoric. The coalition in Westminster should be judged on its merits and what it achieves, not on the basis of intemperate and hysterical "anyone but the Tories" attitudes. The Liberal Democrats exist to do more than keep the Tories out of power - or to keep Labour in, for that matter.

It's a shame that people who are intelligent and informed prefer not to empower the electorate but to seek easy votes by reducing arguments to simplicities. The coalition no more makes the Lib Dems a Tory Party than buying shares in McDonalds would make me a hamburger.

Tavish Scott has already set a distinct agenda for the Lib Dems in Scotland and has effectively ruled out any alliance with the Conservatives. The policy platform we're standing on doesn't sound Tory and doesn't look Tory. That's because it isn't. As someone who's actually standing against the Scottish Conservatives' leader, I resent the completely false assumption that our parties are even similar: there's practically nothing (other than opposition to independence) that we have in common.

I believe in coalitions. I believe in working with people of all parties and of none to achieve results. And when I say "all parties", I mean that - with the probable exception of the BNP. And when the electorate gives most votes and seats to the Conservatives, it's only right that we should talk to them and try to work with them. In the event it was Labour's unwillingness to seriously negotiate that made a Tory PM inevitable, not Nick Clegg as Mr Noon would have the electorate believe.

I think entering the coalition was the right thing to do in the circumstances, even though I would have preferred a different option. That might make me pro-coalition because I believe in collaborative politics, but that doesn't make me pro-Tory. And it doesn't make my party pro-Tory. I'm not comfortable with many of the decisions the coalition has made and neither, it seems, is Tavish Scott. That's because we're liberals.

By all means, let's debate the record of the coalition. But please let's do so responsibly and without resorting to wildly inaccurate slurs.

1 comment:

Paisley Sauce said...

After initially trying to extol the virtues of coalition with the Tories the rushed change to attacking the evil allies I think I detect a whiff of panic in the LD ranks.

Maybe someone has finally realised that the Democrat flavoured Liberals are about to follow their Unionist and National equivalents into being merged into the Conservative party.

And thus those liberals who remain outside will find themselves having to rebuild the party just like they did in 1945.