Vir Cantium

I'm right, you know …

Are The LibDems In The Big Game … Or Their Own Endgame?

It’s difficult to see how things will work out well for the LibDems.

Whether there’s a ‘confidence and supply’ agreement or a full coalition (yeah, right) with the Conservatives, Clegg will have alienated or disillusioned most of his activists and half his voters. If he gets in with Labour, in a coalition of the losers, he’ll just disillusion the other half of his voters.

In the eyes of the ‘man in the street’ – the normal sort of person who thinks about politics seriously about once every four years – the LibDems have been a proxy for either a “none of the above” or “don’t know” option. The party has successfully duped many into thinking the party is somehow in the centre of the political spectrum, while a goodly number of Lib Dem activists would happily admit to being left of centre (or further). Whichever party they tie up with, that apparent equidistance will have disappeared.

Already there is no shortage of voices who, having been urged to vote LibDem to stop the Tories, are now spitting feathers at the prospect of a LibDem/Conservative deal. Even if Clegg does the dirty and ties up with Labour, a less distasteful prospect for many LibDems, any trust in the LibDems will have gone – and with it any chance of a credible claim to represent a new direction or honesty in politics.

Yet if he gets PR does all this matter? Yes, because a deeply divided – or even terminally split – Lib Dem party will not be able to compete against the likes of the Greens or UKIP in getting the attention of the electorate.

A referendum on PR will have to be won. Polls may presently show a majority in favour, but that is without any prominent campaign in favour of the current system. Bear in mind also that the longer the current negotiations drag on, the less the appetite for more of the same every couple of years.

Before he gets that far, of course, he has to actually get electoral reform. Whatever Cameron or Labour promise, it will have to come down to a vote in the Commons. How many MPs, having done the maths, would feel there is nothing to lose by defying the whips and not voting for Christmas?

Of course, before he gets that far, the coalition/support deal will have to survive the course; bear in mind any PR referendum will be unlikely to take place within a year (quite possibly longer) once the myriad of systems have been examined and the actual question decided on – and every decision in a coalition will be a long negotiating process.

So just what are the chances of the Lib Dems coming through the whole process still able to achieve as much as 23% in any election – PR or not – or even existing as a single party?

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