Britain: Lib Dems put power before principle

May 15, 2010

The Liberal Democrats have committed to support about $10 billion in public spending cuts as part of their coalition deal with the Conservative Party, said in a May 12 article. An abridged version is below.

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Liberal Democrat (LD) leader Nick Clegg is deputy prime minister (not bad for a leader who lost seats in the election) and another four members of his party will be in cabinet as part of the power-sharing deal signed with the Conservative Party (Tories).

No one party won a majority of seats in Britain’s May 6 elections, but the Tories won the largest number (305 out of 649). With the LD’s 57 seats, the Lib Dem-Tory coalition forms a majority.

The LD will have little power (not in defence and foreign policy, nor over the economy, with all three posts firmly in Tory hands).

It has given up supposedly strongly held policies to win office. Any possible abolition of the Trident nuclear weapons program has gone. The amnesty for illegal immigrants has gone.

In return, the LD has won commitment to a referendum on introducing a form of proportional representation (a system that grants seats according to percentage of votes won rather than the “first-past-the-post” system that makes it hard for smaller parties to secure representation).

The Tories are free to campaign against it, backed up by the powerful Tory press.

LD has also won some concessions on raising tax thresholds.

But most importantly of all, it has committed to Tory plans for extra cuts worth almost $10 billion that will tear at the heart of public sector jobs and conditions, pensions and the welfare state.

The Lib Dems will be part of justifying attacks on the poorest to please the bankers and the rich.

The strong Labour vote in areas such as London and Scotland reflects a class reaction against these threatened cuts — even if Labour was going to implement its own range of cuts on a lesser scale.

Those who voted LD to keep out the Tories or to punish Labour are devastated, as they should be.

In fact, the LD-Tory coalition marks the end of the road for a particular form of LD triangulation: it had a right-wing face to appeal to disgruntled Tories (there is nothing liberal about the Tory/LD coalitions in local councils); and a left-wing face for those fed up with Labour’s policies.

Many people voted for Clegg on May 6 because they opposed the Iraq war, wanted to scrap Trident, disliked the attacks on immigrants, or wanted the poor to pay less tax.

It will be very hard for LD to play such a role again. Many people will not vote LD if they think it means getting the Tories.

Clegg is firmly on the right of his party and has no problem doing deals with the Tories. Let’s see what effect it has on his party over the coming months.

Plenty of Tories are not happy either. A survey of more than 3000 Tories found 62% thought the campaign by Conservative leader and new PM David Cameron was poor. Many will have preferred a Tory minority government and will balk at many concessions to the LD.

It is a weak coalition. Economic crisis, war and working-class struggle can all weaken and perhaps terminate it.

Labour is now in opposition, choosing a new leader and choosing how and where to fight.

It is down but not out, with a better vote in some areas than expected and enough seats for a serious opposition. Whether it understands what went wrong for Labour was not its leader but its right-wing Blairite policies is another matter.

The British Guardian said on May 12: “Analysts at Morgan Stanley reckoned that the pound could have fallen to [US]$1.35 — from around $1.50 yesterday — if a LabLib coalition had been formed.”

So the markets are happy — up to a point.

Debt, deficit and huge bailouts in Europe still dominate the real world. And this government aims to bring the Greek austerity to Britain.

With a majority not having voted for the party promising deep cuts, a British Airways strike on the horizon, plus the Afghanistan war, which is being lost against a background of economic recession, we are in interesting times.

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