Why I think Clegg will choose Cameron…..
James Graham has a piece on his Quaequam Blog saying that he thinks my analysis of the likelihood of a Liberal Democrat/Conservative coalition is ‘simplistic’. Lets look at the exhibits in order;
Exhibit A in this case is Clegg’s repeated statement that, in the case of a hung parliament, he would acknowledge that whichever party had the biggest mandate would have “the first right to seek to govern.
Of course, as James rightly acknowledges this cannot be taken as too concrete either way on one level because it could mean either party and Clegg himself is being deliberately vague in what the ‘biggest mandate’ actually is. However, James points to Clegg’s Demos pamphlet and says that this outlines how ‘Labour are rivals and the Conservatives foes’ and this is seen as an indication he recognises a closeness to Labour. However, it is that perception that makes Clegg more likely to choose the Conservatives.
James’s logic is tortured here as demonstrated by asking yourself this question; if you see the Liberal Democrats as replacing Labour as ‘the’ progressive party’ then where is the sense in supporting them in coalition?How is somebody more likely to form an alliance with ‘rivals’ over ‘foes’? Rivals are contesting the same piece of turf while foes are contesting from their own; therefore, from the Clegg perspective it makes more sense to make common cause with the foe as opposed to the rival.
In Leeds this is exactly what happened; the Liberal Democrats joined forces to remove Labour from power because they thought Labour had been in power too long. It is not hard to see how this rationale would play out nationally. It doesn’t matter if Clegg’s dislike of Cameron is ‘visceral and personal’ indeed it suggests that hatred is bourne of similarity. Besides, my impression of Clegg is that he would easily lay aside such prejudices in any case were power at stake. Were Clegg to seek a partnership with Cameron I do however concede that it would pull the Liberal Democrats to pieces; thus I am not surprised that the New Statesman is already reporting ‘tensions’.
It does not weaken the liberal wing of Labour to state common ground now; and also while it is true that it would lend weight to the Conservative claims that a Liberal Democrat vote is a vote for Labour is it not true that Clegg’s pontificating lends weight to the counter-claim? Gordon Brown would come under increased pressure to concede more ground to the liberal wing were the Lib Dems to enter the fray because the weight of numbers and strength gained would become irresistable.
James exemplifies the contradictory logic of the Lib Dems position by on the one hand dismissing the common ground with Labour but on the other dismissing it because ‘Labour won’t budge enough’; a device to dismiss the obvious that when it comes to the good of cause over tribe Clegg’s position is wrong and damaging. While it is true that there is some tactical sense to the position pre-election its maintence in the long-run may well make the post-election situation more difficult than it should have been.