Friday, 7 May 2010

Lib Dem credibility as party of change is on the line

Given his line in the election campaign that he would seek a governing arrangement first with the party having most 'seats and votes', it should not have come as a surprise that Nick Clegg would allow David Cameron to make the first pitch for Lib Dem support.

Cameron has duly made his offer. And on the issue that has traditionally mattered most to Lib Dems - electoral reform - he has offered very little.

Meanwhile, Labour seems pretty obviously willing to offer electoral reform - not simply AV, as trailed in the manifesto, but almost certainly a form of PR such as 'AV +'.

One thing the Lib Dems need to consider in this situation is how their own reputation as the party of political reform - a reputation that fuelled their 'surge' - will be affected if they reject Labour's offer and settle for a deal with the Conservatives that offers so little.

How could they ever face the electorate again and seriously claim that they are the party of change in our scandalous political system? They will have had their chance to make the change which they have called for so insistently - and so rightly - for decades. And they will have turned their back on it.

Meanwhile, Labour could well move further onto this traditional Lib Dem terrain. There is already a strong current of opinion within Labour that favours electoral reform going beyond AV. And this current might well find new supporters as the party renews itself in the wake of this election.

In the past few weeks I have been struck by how the Lib Dems have enthused so many idealistic students, not to mention idealistic newspaper editors. If they do not now play hardball on electoral reform, they will disillusion swathes of their own supporters. (If you look at the comments in response to Mark Pack's fine post on the Cameron offer at Lib Dem Voice, you can see the disillusionment already setting in...)

And when they next come to play the message of change? They will find that many fewer people take them seriously.


James said...

If only Labour had got a look in at power in the last thirteen years they could have implemented the electoral reform policies they treasure so deeply....

Stuart White said...

James: I take your point, but it isn't really relevant. Labour hasn't delivered PR etc. but (alas) it never said it was passionately committed to doing so. The point in the post is not about failure to deliver PR, but about the (possible - we have yet to see) failure to deliver on it when you say you are committed to it, and it looks like its within your power to insist on it.

Stuart White said...
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