Saturday, May 08, 2010

The long game

Yesterday, the people of the UK voted for a hung Parliament. With no party having a majority on their own, the Liberal Democrats are in a strong position to exact concessions in exchange for their support (though it is worth noting that even that would not be enough for a deal with Labour - they would need other parties to support them or abstain). And so the dealmaking has begun. Last night, Gordon Brown made a solid promise of a referendum on electoral reform. David Cameron countered with a "big, open and comprehensive" coalition offer, stressing the common ground between the two parties - but not including electoral reform. The furtherest he would go was to offer a toothless all-party Parliamentary inquiry, which they would then ignore.

Under these circumstances, the choice should be obvious. Electoral reform isn't just a nice thing to have - its the game changer. Given UK voting patterns, proportional representation would reduce the power of both major parties and make the LibDems a permanent part of government, necessary for any stable coalition. Quite apart from its own merits as a more democratic system, that offers the LibDems significant policy influence in the future.

Cameron offers something now. Brown offers that, plus everything later. And put like that, its a very clear. Clegg should play the long game, and choose electoral reform.

There will no doubt be a price to pay. The Tories are right that the electorate has rejected Brown (they have also rejected Cameron, but they're not making so much noise about that). But so what? Assume the worst - that the LibDems will lose 50% of their vote for backing Labour. In a proportional system, they would still get more MPs than they are getting now. They have little to lose, and everything to gain. They should stick to their bottom line, and demand electoral reform.