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Dr Alistair Brown | Associate lecturer in English Literature; researching video games and literature

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Through exploring the psychopathology of Capgras syndrome, in which a patient mistakes a loved one for an imposter, The Echo Maker offers a sustained meditation on the ways in which we project our own problems onto other people. As a reflection on the mysteries of consciousness, the novel offers some interesting if not especially new insights into the fuzzy boundaries between scientific and literary interpretations of the mind. Read more

Liberal Democrats Tell Cameron to Go For Government: A Few Predictions

Friday, May 07, 2010

I have just heard Nick Clegg's statement about the election, in which he has repeated his statement that the party with the largest share of the votes, which also has the largest number of seats, has the mandate to govern. Logically, this must be the Conservatives, something Clegg actually openly confirmed by inviting Cameron to form the next government. In the turmoil of this election, and on the spur of the moment, here are a few thoughts about why he has made this manoeuvre:
  • Clegg is playing the long game here. To form a coalition with Gordon Brown might be tempting in the short term, but would ultimately be politically disastrous, tainting his party with an allegiance with the old politics that he clearly distinguished the Lib Dems from in the Leaders' Debates.
  • By throwing down the gauntlet to Cameron, Clegg may be anticipating that the Tories would be unable to form a working minority government, leading to the possibility of a second election in the not-too-distant future, at which the Lib Dems could hardly be expected to do worse than they have done today.
  • Alternatively, if Cameron can in the immediate term get a government moving, he might need to call on Lib Dem support on some issues, against which the Lib Dems can extract the price of electoral reform. One must expect that the Conservatives will be more likely to be amenable to electoral reform now, given that they have gained the same share of the vote as Labour gained in 1997, yet not won the same overwhelming majority. 
  • By aligning with the Conservatives at this point - even though it is impossible to see the Lib Dems entering into a formal coalition with them over the coming weeks - the Lib Dems are in an almost win-win situation. Either the Conservatives cannot make a minority government work, making for a swift second election, in which the Lib Dems can hardly be expected to go backwards; or the Conservatives will successfully push through some radical reforms, pulling the plug from public services, but without the large popular mandate required to do so, opening a greater space for the Lib Dems to occupy as the party of genuine change in the long term (especially if Cameron sticks to his plans to cut inheritance tax for wealthy millionaires). 
Of course, the one big risk is that the Conservatives will force the Lib Dems' hand. They will allow for a referendum on proportional representation, probably to be done in conjunction with the next election, but then campaign fiercely against it. They will play on people's irrational fears of coalition government, bypassing the intellectual instincts that show that the current electoral system is grossly unfair. The trouble is, such a referendum might just work, if Cameron has just failed to operate successfully with a minority government that would be inherently more likely under proportional representation. The loss of a referendum would keep real change off the cards for a generation.

The Lib Dems have to be careful, then, to try to position themselves on the sidelines of the two parties, whilst passively encouraging the Conservatives to make a minority government work after a fashion. If their minority government fails spectacularly in backstairs politicking, this will be a strong case against proportional representation that must be the Lib Dems ultimate aim. What they must hope for, then, is that Cameron just about makes his budget stick, which then proves to be so unpopular and without the mass backing of this election that another has to be called, this time with the prospect of total reform and the Lib Dems in a strong position: not the kingmakers this time, but the potential kings next. 

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Posted by Alistair at 10:17 am


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