Have they all forgotten the economy?
DURING the General Election campaign, every party worth taking seriously – and, for the purposes of the following discussion, I am interpreting that phrase loosely enough to include Labour – agreed that the economy was the biggest issue facing the country.
So why is that electoral reform is suddenly dominating the agenda?
We know how it has happened; the hung Parliament explains that, with the Liberal Democrats sensing an opportunity for which they, and the old Liberal Party and the SDP before them, have been waiting for more than a generation.
But, at a time when Greeks were rioting in the streets about the state of their economy and the measures needed to repair it, why is it that the only demonstration sparked in London by the outcome of our election concerned the matter of which voting system should be used next time?
The reason for this is the evident desperation of the Labour Party to cling to power after an election it has plainly lost.
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Labour’s supposed long-standing commitment to electoral reform has been in place for about as long as the party’s leadership has know that it was not going to win another majority. They have had 13 years to do something about it and so their conversion to the cause now can only be viewed with the deepest cynicism, as a means of persuading the Liberal Democrats to support them rather than the Conservatives.
What the markets would make of such an outcome, once the euphoria of the Greek bail-out has worn off, one can only imagine.
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Then again, a week before the election (and a couple of days before Bank of England governor Mervyn King said much the same thing) I suggested that, given the nasty medicine necessary for the economy’s recovery, this would in some respects be a good election to lose.
If the Liberal Democrats do prop up a Labour-led government, even under the eventual leadership of someone other than Gordon Brown, both parties might find that poetic justice lies in wait for them just around the corner, as rising unemployment puts continued strain on the public finances even as such modest cuts as Labour plans are starting to hurt.
Such an outcome might cost David Cameron the leadership of the Conservative Party, but it could well enable him, if he survives, or his successor if he does not, to win a more decisive victory in due course.
The Liberal Democrats might like what Labour is offering on electoral reform, but will such a government last long enough to deliver?
Having begun, rightly, by talking to the Conservatives, Nick Clegg and his party colleagues should think carefully before switching horses.