As they sign up to an agreement with the Tories, the Liberal Democrats may have just signed their own suicide note.
The temptation is to just go back doing music and TV reviews, like when this blog first started. It's a sad day for British politics and many people are feeling significantly let down. This is why:
1. Let's begin by saying that I'm fully aware Labour is to blame for the collapse of coalition talks with the LibDems (and the SNP as well). Too many party dinosaurs rubbished the idea in public and poured scorn over a range of policies, not least electoral reform.
2. I'm also aware it was never going to be easy for the LibDems. "Poor Clegg, damned if he did...", like someone remarked this morning in the Independent. The root of all crap began on May 6, when, quite simply, the LibDems failed to muster enough support.
3. The honourable (and legitimate) thing to do was to let the Tories form a minority government. The LibDems could have shown "responsibility" by not voting it down initially. This would have also been in the party's medium and long-term interests. Supporters of last night's agreement fool themselves that this way the LDs can keep the Tories' nasty side at bay. But they fail to register that a Tory minority government, quite simply, would not have the numbers to implement its nastier bits anyway.
4. Some people say that Nick Clegg was left with no other choice because they would have been slain by the press as "irresponsible", especially in the midst of a downturn and need for "strong government". But since when have we cared about what the Daily Mail, the Sun and the Telegraph think? They would tear to pieces anything left of Thatcher anyway. Also, imagine if the same yardstick had been applied when the LDs voted against the Iraq war. I don't recall any LibDem fretting anxiously that "now we’re going to be called wet and irresponsible at a crucial time for our nation".
5. The Lib Dems have been selling the deal on the basis that they manage to secure a number of important concessions from the Conservatives. This is, however, a mixed bag, and less of a victory that it would appear at first.
6. Yes, one of New Labour's worst ideas, ID cards, will be dropped. The LibDems also managed to grab a commitment to raise the tax threshold towards (but not at) £10,000 of income. The Tories dropped their appalling plan to cut inheritance tax for millionaires and made concessions on education and a mostly elected House of Lords too. Finally, the Tories agreed to a referendum on Alternative Vote (AV), a moderate type of electoral reform (nevertheless an improvement on the current system).
7. It is understood, however, that the Tory high-cadres are confident they can win the referendum. They have the financial backing, the media and the momentum behind them. If referendum on electoral reform is lost, the blow for the Liberals will be unprecedented.
8. Supporters of the agreement amongst the Lib Dems are being exceptionally naive in forgetting that, concessions aside, the government will remain a Conservative one. The Tories will get (and rightly so, they're by far the bigger partner) the lion's share of goverment posts and will set most of the agenda. Tory MPs, activists and supporters did not wait 13 years and a 97-seat gain to sit back and let another party -least of all the Liberals- call the shots. Not on your nelly.
9. When the coalition collapses (which could happen anytime over at least 145 factors including Europe, immigration, surveillance, Lords reform, cuts, etc) and new elections are called, the Tories will have little to lose. They're unlikely to perform much worse than they did on May 6. They have a massive power base and enviable media support. Even at their rock bottom (1997) they still managed to get together 30 per cent of the popular vote. The same cannot be said of the Lib Dems, whose recent good luck was primarily due to disgruntled "progressive" voters. Needless to say, after seeing their party actively propping up people like George Osborne, William Hague and Liam Fox, they can kiss most of them goodbye now.
10. I'm amazed at how the LibDem high ranks are failing to take the pulse of their grass-roots voters. Lib Dem MPs may have "overwhelmingly" given the Cameron/Clegg partnership the nod, but the disquiet amongst voters is massive. Of course, this is hardly statistical evidence, but 9 out of 10 LD voters I personally know are feeling immensely let down. And that's to put it mildly.
11. The most tragic thing is that more and more people, politically, now have nowhere to go. I hear genuine Labour supporters saying "come with us now", but the expression "goldfish memory" springs to mind. Were they hiding under a rock for the past 13 years? And anyway, even if that was a viable option...would that be to support non-entities like David Miliband and Tony Blair's other grandchildren?