Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Contempt: what unites Labour and the Conservatives

Despite their obvious differences, there is one thing that unites significant sections, if not all, of the Conservative and Labour parties: contempt for the Liberal Democrats.  An Economist Intelligence Unit report from just a few weeks ago highlighted how the Tories' contempt for the Lib Dems could well have the result of putting David Cameron out of office after the next general election, due to be held in May 2015.

(I would quibble with the author's assertion that many Conservatives "now are" contemptuous of the Lib Dems: 'twas ever thus).

As the EIU hints, neither Labour nor the Tories have come to terms with the fact that the days when they shared 97% of the vote between them (such as in 1951) are long gone and are never to return.  Many Tory backbenchers on the right of the party continue to cling to the fantasy that David Cameron could have formed a minority government in Amy 2010 that would have allowed him to call a snap general election some time after that would have delivered the Tories an overall majority.

The attitude is reminiscent of former Irish Prime Minister Charlie Haughey's remark after the 1989 Irish general election, describing the first-ever coalition his Fianna Fáil party had ever had to enter into as "a temporary little arrangement".  (Fianna Fáil have not won an overall majority since).

This is, of course, as Mike Smithson has pointed out repeatedly on PoliticalBetting just that: a Conservative fantasy.  Nonetheless, the spirit of Britain's "natural party of government" refuses to reconcile itself to the fact that they didn't win the 2010 general election, bringing to four the number of successive general elections the Tories have failed in.

The Liberal Democrats' ability to run with the hares and hunt with the hounds in different parts of the country depending on who their main opponent was has long been a source of irritation and contempt in "the two main parties".  It was, of course, a great strategy when in opposition, but was bound to be unsustainable if the party ever made the decision to go into government with one or the other.

The loss of the soft pro-Labour Lib Dem vote after the 2010 general election was entirely predictable.  A different section of Lib Dem support (though possibly smaller) would have similarly evaporated had the party come to an arrangement to keep Labour in office as part of a unstable and shaky coalition four years ago as well.

Labour's contempt is naturally the opposite: Nick Clegg is blamed for putting David Cameron in office.  There is also a certain degree of residual bitterness within Labour that stems from past hatreds towards the 'splittist' SDP that, one one view, helped facilitate Thatcher's general election victory in 1983 (the Tories' share of the vote actually dropped between 1979 and 1983: Labour's just dropped more).

Neither the Tories nor Labour have, as the EIU notes, reconciled themselves to the concept of coalition government.

In the crabby Labour List article above, Nick Ferguson makes a poor attempt to give an alternative interpretation of why Labour loathes Nick Clegg, he is a thrusting young Tory.  The author clearly seems to have been pretty contemptuous of the Lib Dems for a very long time.  But he also gives the game away as to why he is yet another British political commentator who longs for the Manichean, simple, days of Labour v Tory:
Ladies and gentlemen, if you’ve been labouring under the impression that Nick Clegg could ever serve under a Labour government, then let today be the day when the scales fell from your eyes.
Excuse me Mr. Ferguson, but I can guarantee you that Nick Clegg would never serve under a Labour government.  He might lead the Liberal Democrats to form a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition government, but he will never serve under a Labour government.

Under those circumstances, Labour will not have won the general election that preceded it (a prospect that becomes worryingly more likely, from a Labour perspective, by the day).

Under those circumstances, I am sure there are some Conservatives who could share with Mark Ferguson the number of their therapist to stop him falling into delusional fantasies, as many Tories have done since 2010.

And perhaps, just perhaps, he should try and be just a little less contemptuous of the Liberal Democrats: because the chances of needing them in 14 months' time gets greater by the day.

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