It is very telling that, in the face of the biggest economic and public service crisis in a generation, the biggest obstacle to coalition negotiations both between the Liberals and the Conservatives and between the Liberals and Labour has turned out to be electoral reform
. Everything now appears to hinge on the questions: Will there be a referendum? Will it be binding? On Single Transferable Vote? Or AV ? Can Labour and the Conservatives campaign against it?
Following the sudden electoral day collapse of Cleggmania and the failure of either other major party to capitalise, the Liberal Democrats have been left awkwardly powerful, driving the agenda of the next Government. To what end? While this was an election held in the shadow of crisis in the economy and the resulting public spending crisis, these issues are largely absent from the public debate and private notes
about coalitions. The LibDem's four policy “shopping list”
appears to have been reduced to one:
- Investing extra funds in education through a pupil premium for disadvantaged children.
- Tax reform, taking 4 million out of tax and raising taxes on the rich by requiring capital gains and income to be taxed at the same rate.
- Rebalancing of the economy to put less emphasis on centralised banking and more on a new greener economy.
- Political reforms, including changes to the voting system and a democratically elected Lords, that go further than proposed by Labour.
When negotiating with the Tories, have the LibDems demanded that their election pledge of a new mansion tax be given priority over a reduction in inheritance tax? What about their pledge to scrap council tax in favour of a local income tax? Are they protecting their pledges to separate investment from retail banking; provide Green stimulus (£3.1 billion) or raise the threshold of income tax to £10,000? To delay public sector cuts until the recovery is secure?
When negotiating with Labour, have they demanded that ID cards or Trident be scrapped in line with their manifesto? That detention without trial be reduced to 14 days? That DNA databases and libel laws be radically reformed?
These are the real issues on which the election was fought, and should be the policies around which a new government coalesces. If the next government is simply the highest bidder in an electoral reform auction (however important electoral reform may be) and issues of national importance appear to have been sidelined for a party political power grab, whichever party benefits will surely be tainted.
The LibDems should start talking about the other three items on their list before they hand over the keys to No 10.