Saturday, May 15, 2010

In the end, the public got what it wanted

So is it a betrayal of millions of people who voted Liberal Democrat to stop the Tories getting in - or a noble attempt to set aside party differences in the greater national interest?

Is it a reflection of the public will as it was expressed on 6 May – or something absolutely no-one actually voted for?

Opinions have invariably been divided about the new Con-Lib coalition that took office this week following Gordon Brown's protracted but ultimately dignified exit - and doubtless will remain so.

Whether it succeeds or fails - and much will happen between now and the scheduled date of the next election in 2015 - British politics will surely never quite be the same again.

Given that I have said as much already, it won't surprise readers to know that I think this is probably the outcome that best makes sense of the inconclusive election result.

Whether by accident or design, the public has got what it wanted - change, but in a way that avoids entrusting the fortunes of the country entirely to the Tories.

Were it not for the case that the coalition had a fair wind of public opinion behind it, it would probably not have come about.

By contrast, the public's reaction to any Lib-Lab deal would have been far more hostile - as the likes of John Reid and David Blunkett realised from the start.

In retrospect, Mr Brown should have realised this too rather than allow himself to be persuaded by Alastair Campbell and Lord Mandelson into trying to stitch together such a deal on Tuesday.

Maybe he was playing a longer game. By staying in No 10 and holding out the prospect of a deal, he enabled Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg to wring concessions out of the Tories that he would not otherwise have been able to.

Whether that was intentional or otherwise, we have ended up with a much less right-wing government as a result, and perhaps we owe the former Prime Minister a debt of gratitude for that.

That said, the enthusiasm with which the new Prime Minister David Cameron has embraced his new partners suggests that he may actually prefer it this way to governing alone.

There will be plenty of time over the coming months to analyse the new government - but what of Labour, in the week that it took its leave of power after 13 years?

Some think that by steering clear of a coalition that is destined to become hugely unpopular once the cuts start to bite, the party has snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

Had Labour somehow managed to stagger on in office, the resulting public backlash could have ended up destroying it for a generation.

As it is, the party now has an opportunity to rebuild and, free of the poisonous legacy of the Blair-Brown rivalry and the mistakes of the past 13 years, rebuild it surely will.

My own assessment of New Labour is that it was handed a remarkable opportunity to reshape British politics for good which, by and large, it squandered.

It has well and truly paid the price for its timidity. Mr Brown's opposition to Roy Jenkins' 1998 electoral reform plans finally came back and bit him on the bum this week - much as Jim Callaghan's opposition to Barbara Castle's 1969 trade union reforms were to bite him on the bum ten years' later in the Winter of Discontent.

He probably did save the economy from meltdown in 2008/9, but without a 'big idea' to take it forward, it was clear his government had run out of road.

It now falls to Messrs Clegg and Cameron to bring about the lasting changes which Messrs Blair and Brown ultimately failed to deliver.

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Charlotte Brampton (the hon.) said...

"It now falls to Messrs Clegg and Cameron to bring about the lasting changes which Messrs Blair and Brown ultimately failed to deliver."

... and will they? Or does your interest in New Labour mean that such observations will not ba made on here?

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