Reflection on AV referendum – the left and Nick Clegg

I hate to agree with the Daily Mail headline today, but AV really was not in democracy’s favour. A resounding defeat has been considered by some of my young political friends as a reactionary rejection against the people’s interests, or a bloody nose for Clegg. I think the truth is that people want a choice that really means your vote counts to a final result wherever you live, and that the choice presented to us must be based on political consensus and not based on a back-room deal for forming a government.

Am I on the left? On social policy yes, but my tutor in economics is Adam Smith not Marx. I despise any political group that sees the people as a means to achieving their ideals and society rather than the people being empowered with liberty and freedom from want to chose. Any political elite that fails in liberty and economic freedom of any colour deserves contempt.

Nick Clegg made the right decision in forming a coalition with the Conservatives to provide a crdeible government that could last a full term. I may not be happy but it was the minimum winning coalition that Labour failed to offer with it’s dismal showing at the election. It is easy to bicker but we must accept that the Conservatives call the shots not the Liberals with less than 1/5 of the electorate wanting all their policies. The Conservative supporters will not desert them because they knew what austerity measures would happen. The council elections would bear this out. If Middle England starts to hurt badly Conservative support could turn.

Andrew Brown, of The Guardian, has done a brilliant blog on why the left hates Nick Clegg which I repost below. No blog this Sunday 8 May.

Why does the left hate Nick Clegg?

The deputy prime minister is a scapegoat for the fact that even Lib Dem voters don’t really want a more open and equal country

Andrew Brown
guardian.co.uk, Saturday 7 May 2011 16.00 BST
Article history

Nick Clegg … Is he taking the blame for the Lib Dem’s longstanding unpopularity? Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
Why does the left so hate Nick Clegg? Even to ask this question here suggests an appalling failure to grasp the obvious. The left, so far as Comment is free is concerned, is practically defined by people who hate Nick Clegg. This is an atmosphere in which someone can write “I really think this is one of Steve [Bell]’s all time bests – Hitler, bin Laden and now Clegg!” and it passes without comment. No amount of reasoning is going to shift this, which is why I am interested in the phenomenon.

I think that the explanation is a discreditable and unfortunate one, best understood by returning to an embarrassing time: our leader proclaiming that the last election was “a liberal moment”. It wasn’t. How could so many clever, nice people (as our leader writers are) get things so wrong?

The answer is that we had failed to notice that when they are given a vote, the British do not in fact want liberal policies much, and they certainly don’t get excited about them. They don’t actually believe they live in a secular democracy, and they don’t much want to, either. Compare the excitement generated by the royal wedding with that about the AV referendum. If we really thought that democratic politics said as much, as interestingly, about being British as the wedding does, there would surely have been a great deal more excitement about this.

Sometimes there is. I remember the fall of Thatcher as an electric moment, and the election of Tony Blair. But for the most part, democracy is like drains. You miss it dreadfully when it’s not there. But you don’t want to think much about drains or democracy, and the people who think that the most glamorous and impressive bits of their house are the bathroom fittings are just weird.

The failure of the Lib Dems and their projects is the simple and endlessly repeated proof of this. But it is difficult to keep going in politics with the idea of being part of a perpetual minority. So we need ways to work around the failure and unpopularity of Lib Dem policies, and in this light hatred of Clegg is a simple scapegoating mechanism. Does anyone seriously suppose that any other Lib Dem leader could have played the hand differently or better? I know he’s been on telly, but is Vince Cable really so charismatic that he could have turned back a 68% to 32% defeat, even if he had danced for it?

The hatred over student fees in particular is evidence that even Liberal Democrat voters don’t want a more open and equal country. Of course, the Lib Dems knew this, which is why in opposition they took up a policy of “free” education for university students. “Free”, because someone still has to pay for the whole thing; just not the beneficiaries. There is nothing particularly rightwing about student loans: the Swedish social democrats introduced them in 1960, under Olof Palme, when he was minister of education. The outcry against them comes from people who see themselves losing a privilege they had considered as a right. There’s a word for that, and it’s not “liberal”.

Hatred of Clegg is concentrated on the fact that he betrayed some of the policies he ran on; but he did so because the country voted against them. That’s democracy. Sometimes the majority is wrong. Sometimes it disagrees with you. But the majority still gets to decide, as the Lib Dems, in coalition, have discovered. There’s no reason whatever that a party with 23% of the votes should get 100% of its programme through. The people who think it should are not being democratic.

If even Lib Dem supporters are neither liberal nor democratic, it’s hard to see why the rest of the country should vote for their – our – policies either. But to admit this is just about impossible. It so much easier and more satisfying simply to hate Clegg.

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