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Clegg’s true colours

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While Guardian liberals and purple-clad reformers await in hope after an inconclusive UK general election, their ‘champion of the new politics’ has been locked in a power-grasping embrace with Cameron, the favoured suit of big business, observes John Hilley.


These are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others.
Marx (Groucho)

He went, seemingly, for a night and stayed for an extended weekend.

Clegg’s love-in with Cameron and the Tories didn’t take much in the seduction stakes. All Dave had to do was tempt Nick and a few pals with some token jobs to get them inside, a risible submission which Clegg has sweet-coated with mitigating appeals to ‘constitutional duty’, the ‘national interest’, ‘economic stability’, ‘market reassurance’ and all that ‘responsible’ politician stuff.

While Guardian liberals and purple-clad reformers await the great proportional representation (PR) deliverance, their ‘champion of the new politics’ has been locked in power-grasping embrace with Cameron, the media- populist Etonian and favoured suit of big business. With Gordon Brown’s resignation and formal talks now commenced with Labour, Clegg’s dalliance has shifted. But the ways in which he and his party circle were lured and seduced should be a key lesson in itself.

It’s always instructive to observe the psychology of incorporation and vanity politics, as in Clegg composing himself, so statesman-like, so measured, appealing for the country to “bear with us.”

That Clegg could even countenance an alliance with the Tories, still the truest home of Little England and big capital, confirms all we ever needed to know about his get-me-into-office priorities. It’s not just the content of talks with the Tories, it’s the very act of considering such a scabrous pact.

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Was there ever any clear blue water between these parties? None of any significance. Take your pick between business party C, L or LD. The Lib Dem Orange Book agenda is not so far from the ruthless neoliberal package ready to be enacted by the Tories. This is what they, the parties, understand as consensus politics – the consensual understanding that there’s no alternative to market/banker demands.

However, there are more obvious incompatibilities which Lib Dem – and Tory – members would find impossible to stomach. Their stated differences on Europe illustrates, most notably, just what kind of awkward coupling any alignment would involve.

But it’s the promiscuous relegation of PR during these talks which damns Clegg and his party elite as craven opportunists. There was, and is, simply nothing serious on offer from Cameron and his party on a fair voting system. Never mind that the Lib Dems only got 57 seats on 23 percent of the vote, as opposed to Labour’s 255 on 29 percent and 305 for the Tories on 33 percent.

Many decent people in the Lib Dem ranks will never forgive their leaders for selling, or even considering to sell, their souls to rampant Conservatism. For all its faults, there’s still some desire within this party for left-leaning, reformist politics – including the comprehensive removal of Trident. It’s a pity their party leadership don’t intend to act on those beliefs.

Were we ever fooled by Cleggmania? Well, it seems many would-be liberal progressives were – and are. There’s also been talk of a ‘dream team’ Lab-Lib coalition which could enact a great new reform bill and recalibrate a left-centre progressive agenda. Again, for concerned centre-left Lib-Dem and Labour members, this should be the natural pairing. But even this deal looks subject to the same expedient compromises, amounting to a fudged set of pledges on some to-be-discussed version of PR – probably Labour’s not-so-proportional Alternative Vote (AV) ‘offering’ – and the same City-instructed economic and austerity package.

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Some may object that the Tories got the most seats and are still, therefore, entitled to form a government. But this, again, ignores the blatant arithmetic of the limited votes it took to put Cameron there – and, with Clegg’s complicit hand, might still make him PM.

As the contradictions between the Lib Dems and Tories become all too graphic, Clegg now switches talks to the Labour side, apparently buoyed by Brown’s resignation. But, whatever transpires, we can be sure that there’s no mainstream option to the savage cuts and big business-pleasing administration now forming.

The granting of serious PR might still make a useful difference to this dismal scenario. But, even with a Lib-Lab deal it’s not necessarily on the horizon. As Clegg downgrades the issue and preens himself on helping to deliver ‘stable government’, it’s the same, safe version of token vote ‘democracy’ we seem to be landed with.

At least Nick and his mates are all set for insider jobs, in whatever cabinet, and will be able to change any unfairness from within. Well, that’s how they’ll try to sell the expected great sell-out on PR.

Which reminds me of Pilger’s maxim about how particularly dark and dangerous ‘lovable liberal leaders’ can be.

This article first appeared in John Hilley’s blog here.

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