Whatever the Liberal Democrats choose to do as a result of this hung parliament will carry with it considerable risk. But the least risky choice is to act in the national interest.
I am getting a little bit tired of politicians and commentators, particularly those who are not supporters of the Liberal Democrats, telling me what I and my fellow party members should or should not do and pontificating on what we will or will not put up with.
I grew up in 80’s hating Thatcher with a passion. I remember the harshness of those years, the ‘them and us’ attitude, the heartlessness and insularity, the damage done to our economy and social fabric. I remember also how they wasted the opportunity of North Sea oil revenue, introduced Section 28, the Criminal Justice Act ban on ‘repetitive beats’, the sleaze of Neil Hamilton and all that.
But I am also conscious that for many who voted in this election that is all just history. I also know enough of my political history to know that Thatcherism isn’t the only way to be a Conservative, that as a councillor I have achieved things by working with Conservatives, and I am mature enough to know that to be a member of the Conservative party doesn’t automatically make a person the evil spawn of Satan.
I am a progressive. In traditional terms, on economic policy I am on the left of the Liberal Democrats. I want to see radical change to Britain’s political, social and economic structures. I am a dreamer, an idealist, a Guardian reading, muesli eating, bleeding-heart liberal. So surely I would prefer to work with the Labour Party?
Yet I have seen the Labour Party close up in action. It is often a very unpleasant sight. I have seen their arrogance, their authoritarianism, and yes often their conservatism. I have seen the way they take the people who support them for granted, the way they often treat with contempt those they purport to represent. Too many times, when presented with the opportunity to do the progressive thing, I have seen them chose timidity and crush people’s hopes of a better way.
I don’t want to work with Labour. I don’t want to work with the Tories. I am a Liberal.
But I am prepared to work with Labour; I am prepared to work with Tories; if it will deliver change.
After 13 years of Labour the country needs new leadership. Government needs a fresh direction and the release of the new energies that change brings. It also needs stable government over the medium term to enable us to tackle the hugely difficult pressing issues we face, not least economic recovery. The country also needs to renew its political system, to develop a new politics. Not just in theory and rhetoric, but in a practical demonstration of how politicians can work together.
Looking at where we are now, the reality of the election result, I would welcome a deal with the Conservatives to provide stable government. It wouldn’t be easy, it would involve considerable risks for the Liberal Democrats, but it would be, I believe, in the best interests of the nation.
So if Nick Clegg does a deal with the Conservatives today or tomorrow I am likely to support it.
But, and it is a crucial ‘but’, the need to develop a new politics is as crucial as the need to deal with the economic situation.
Substantial and meaningful political reform has to be a central part of the package. I would not accept a deal that suggests that the need for tackling the economics can override or postpone the need for tackling the politics.
Does it need saying that that substantial and meaningful political reform has to include proper reform of the voting system?