Many left-leaning liberals in the media are outraged at what they consider to be broken pledges on the part of Nick Clegg.
Johann Hari writes in the independent, “In just a few days after the election, he cleared a space in his swanky new ministerial offices and staged a bonfire of his principles”.
Aside from the fact this article is laced with hyperbole (look carefully – barely a paragraph without some emotive language!), I can’t help thinking this is exactly not what the country needs.
I don’t mean that in a patriotic sense; I believe this country will operate perfectly well even if we don’t get behind our leaders in support. Thankfully we live in a pluralist state, and it’s not important to me that my fellow citizens are either “for or against” a given government.
No, the reason I am concerned is because we are heading towards one of the most exciting changes in a political system, a genuine maturing of our politics, and one that requires we all start to grasp the concept of what it means to have plurality in government as well as amongst the electorate.
The maturing of our political system is something we Brits have long desired, culminating in our outrage at the expenses scandal – a scandal that would never have grown to such an issue had it not been for the fact that one political party was allowed to govern the country unilaterally for 13 whole years. It is precisely our FPTP (First Past The Post) voting system that polarises the parties in the first place, and splits the electorate in two – a split, incidentally, that has in the last 13 years seen one party as the goodies and one party as the baddies. It’s a well-known and well-studied fact – an obvious and intuitive one – that two-party politics leads to long-term instability (make law, unmake law, make law) rather than a slower more considered, longer-arching, iterative style of policy-making.
Yet what are we going to do about it? Is our appetite strong enough for a mature politics?
We Liberals love to decry the immaturity of rags like The Daily Mail and so on, but in my opinion there is a more subtle immaturity that many of us ignore; it’s a little bit more insipid, and a lot more damaging. But then, I have always thought the broadsheets are much like the tabloids sans boobs, and sans the quite-so-obvious indignant outrage.
When I read articles like Hari’s in the Independent, it worries me that we are more concerned about our leaders’ characters and personal pledges than we are about what they can do for politics itself.
Clegg, along with other Liberal Democrats, signed a pledge before the election. Before the coalition was formed, and before there was any possibility that he might be in a position to even govern. But this was a pledge of political policy, not of political principle.
And here is the basis of understanding a coalition. One must no longer think about pledges, promises, scandal and success, but instead one has to think of the hypothetical.
The hypothetical asks the question: “where would we be if the Tories had gained power, without the Liberal Democrats to temper them?”
The hypothetical asks the question: “where would we be if Labour were still in power?”
The hypothetical asks the question: “where would we be if the Liberal Democrats had won the majority in the House of Commons?”
When you look honestly at the answers to those questions, it becomes very clear why Clegg has not betrayed us in the slightest.