Thursday, January 27, 2011


At the last general election my niece, a young graduate, voted Lib Dem. Part perhaps caught up in Clegg-mania but more supporting a left of centre agenda that wasn’t Labour she had hopes of a bright new political world. Well of course the Lib Dems didn’t win but by entering a coalition with the Tories she has ended up with a government she didn’t vote for and found the manifesto she did vote for wasn’t worth the paper it was written on.

Under the present electoral voting system, in normal times as in 2010, only two parties could have won the general election – the Conservatives or Labour. They could have won it in a number of ways – with an outright majority, as the largest party governing in minority or as a coalition. It was the Conservatives who in the end won the prize, but it could have been Labour. It was never going to be the Lib Dems.

Hence I would argue that the only party to present to the country a dishonest manifesto was the Lib Dems. The Labour party had to deliver a manifesto it could honour because as the party of government it knew what was possible and would not have been given the latitude of breaking its promises because it didn’t know what was going on.

The Conservatives would have had more lee-way here because the opposition party would always be in the dark on the state of the nation’s finances and other obligations the out going administration would have tied it in to. Yet it would have presented a programme for government which by and large it intended to follow.

The minor parties – yes even the BNP – would have presented honest manifestos because they knew that they would not form the next government or for many administrations to come. Their message would be of a Britain they wanted to see and if they had a chance of winning one seat what their MP would do for those constituents.

Yet it was only the Lib Dems, out of stupidity and vanity, presented a manifesto for government when there was never a snowballs chance in hell it would govern. Perhaps because it had been allowed a place in the TV debates the party felt it had to compete with Labour and the Tories. Indeed that has always been its stance – but in the past it had the safety of knowing it would never be elected so what promises it made would never have to be kept. It should also not be forgotten that although it is now a party of government the Clegg-mania election was a disaster for the Lib Dems with their seats dropping from 62 to 57.

As I write this the Home Secretary, Teresa May, has just been presenting to the House of Commons the changes to the rules governing the detention of terror suspects. This was a manifesto pledge by the Lib Dems to scrap these detentions but now in coalition with the Tories yet again they have had to go back on their pledge. One TV commentator said he did not believe this would harm the Lib Dems as they would argue, as so often in recent months, they were now in coalition so had to compromise on the issue. However he went on to say that the pledge was made because the Lib Dems never believed they would have to carry it out yet here they were in government seeing their election promises fall one by one.

When I recently attended the Fabian Society New Year Conference the key note speech was given by Ed Miliband in which he went out of his way to offer the hand of partnership to Lib Dems to form a progressive alliance in British politics. The offer was to disaffected Lib Dem voters who seem to be switching to Labour in their droves. It was also to those Lib Dem elected politicians who did not support the coalition with the Tories or the trashing of all the Lib Dems stand for.

There is a lot of anger in the Labour Party towards the Lib Dems. Not because they did not enter a coalition with Labour but because they did with the Tories - hence are supporting their policy of cut and burn and in the process disowning their manifesto.

Had the Lib Dems been honest at the last election they would have presented not the manifesto of dreams but manifestos for coalition. The party would have stated it knew it would not govern but believed it could be a party of government as has been the case. Therefore there would have been two manifestos, one for Labour and one for the Tories, which would have set out their terms of business. On that basis the two main parties would have known what a coalition with the Lib Dems meant – and more importantly the Lib Dems would have had a mandate from the voters for such a deal.

It is relevant because come the next general election the three main parties will again face each other. It is possible a Conservative-Lib Dem or a Labour – Lib Dem coalition could be the outcome if the Lib Dems survive as a meaningful political force.

The problem for the Lib Dems is come the next election their party could be in total disarray. Ed Miliband may have wooed the majority of their voters and Clegg and Co could preside over a mere rump. How many Lib Dem MPs will be ready to disown their discredited leadership and throw in their lot with or work alongside a resurgent Labour? In the meantime I hope the Lib Dem ministers enjoy their limos – because the price of their political dishonesty will be paid in full at the ballot box.

(A version of the above article appeared in The Morning Star on January 28 2011)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Spain’s PSOE faces a dilemma ahead of the March 2012 general election similar to that which faced the Labour Party in the UK in the run up to last May’s poll.

The socialist government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero is trailing in the polls, by nearly ten points in some soundings, behind the opposition centre-right Partido Popular. However an opinion poll says that if Zapatero stood down and was replaced by his popular vice president, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, the socialists would retain power with a 6.5 per cent lead.

The poll published on Sunday in the national daily El País showed that 37.1 per cent of those questioned would vote socialist if Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba was leader. The opposition PP would gather just 30.6 per cent of the vote. However if Zapatero stayed at the helm then the PP had a six per cent lead over PSOE.

Rubalcaba was promoted to the first vice president of the government in November with Zapatero hoping it would stem the loss of popularity suffered by the socialists since the financial crisis started in 2008. This has not happened and it would appear voters are disenchanted with the prime minister more than with his party.

The majority of Spaniards accept the country is in a financial mess and that tough measures are required to solve the crisis. However in the spotlight is the public sector along with the employment and pension laws. This has angered the unions as it is not government or town hall employees, the workers or the pensioners who caused the economic mess – yet they are the ones being expected to unjustly pick up the tab. Even so the general strike called last September was hardly a resounding success and the unions seem reluctant to challenge the socialist government knowing all too well that the PP would inflict even more hardship.

This is the ‘Gordon Brown’ moment for the Spanish socialist party. It is arguable that had Labour ditched its beleaguered prime minister it would have won last year’s general election with perhaps David Miliband now in the hot seat. In the event Labour lost, Ed Miliband won the resulting leadership contest sending both Gordon and David into the political wilderness. Some might say David Miliband got his just desserts as had he had the courage to challenge Brown and win then Britain could have been spared four years of devastating Tory – Lib Dem cuts.

Unlike Brown Zapatero says he has made the decision on whether he will lead the party into the 2012 election but has not said what his decision is. However as a two-term winner he will find it less difficult to hand over to a colleague than Brown who flunked the voting test.

These opinion poll findings will add pressure on Zapatero to go with the socialists hoping that Rubalcaba will ride to the rescue. If he does that will leave the PP’s hapless leader, Mariano Rajoy, as a three time loser.

Even José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, despite the PP’s commanding lead, is more popular with voters than the opposition party leader Rajoy. A CIS poll put Zapatero on 3.46 and Rajoy on 3.42 – both behind the CiU’s Josep A Durán I Lleida (3.97) and Rosa Díez (UPyD) 3.89. Zapatero has the confidence of 17 per cent of voters and Rajoy just 15.6 per cent. Rubalcaba seems set to greatly improve on that and could end the PP’s power ambitions and in the process Rajoy’s political career.

(Photo: Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba)

(A version of the above article appeared in The Morning Star on Friday January 14, 2011)