In 1945, in ‘Notes on Nationalism’, the great George Orwell wrote: “For those who feel deeply about contemporary politics, certain topics have become so infected by considerations of prestige that a genuinely rational approach to them is almost impossible. Out of the hundreds of examples that one might choose, take this question: Which of the three great allies, the U.S.S.R., Britain and the USA, has contributed most to the defeat of Germany? In theory, it should be possible to give a reasoned and perhaps even a conclusive answer to this question. In practice, however, the necessary calculations cannot be made, because anyone likely to bother his head about such a question would inevitably see it in terms of competitive prestige. He would therefore start by deciding in favour of Russia, Britain or America as the case might be, and only after this would begin searching for arguments that seemed to support his case. And there are whole strings of kindred questions to which you can only get an honest answer from someone who is indifferent to the whole subject involved, and whose opinion on it is probably worthless in any case. Hence, partly, the remarkable failure in our time of political and military prediction. It is curious to reflect that out of all the ‘experts’ of all the schools, there was not a single one who was able to foresee so likely an event as the Russo-German Pact of 1939. And when news of the Pact broke, the most wildly divergent explanations of it were given, and predictions were made which were falsified almost immediately, being based in nearly every case not on a study of probabilities but on a desire to make the U.S.S.R. seem good or bad, strong or weak. Political or military commentators, like astrologers, can survive almost any mistake, because their more devoted followers do not look to them for an appraisal of the facts but for the stimulation of nationalistic loyalties.”
So it is with our LibCon coalition today. For astrologers, read commentators like Mehdi Hassan and Polly Toynbee, who has somehow survived more mistakes than anyone and still persists with headlines like ‘David Laws’s life goal was to cast people out of work’. The left now seems divided into a couple of camps. The first and more open-minded of these, mainly Lib Dems, accept that New Labour had run its course and welcome the coalition’s policies on raising the lowest income tax threshold (redressing Brown’s assault on the poor when he removed the 10p tax band) and on reform of the voting system and the Houses of Commons and Lords. The second lot, mostly Labour drones but also quite a few anti-Tory tactical Lib Dem voters, regard the whole thing as an epic betrayal and bleat that the ConDem government will again “rape the country” etc – oblivious, of course, to the fact that it was Brown’s mismanagement of the economy and the public finances that made the coming cuts a necessity.
Most of those in the second camp are disappointed because they bought into Cleggmania after the first TV leaders’ debate, when his natty line in putting his hands in his pockets, looking at the camera and remembering the audiences’ names led a remarkable number of people to regard him as an Obama-like insurgent, despite sharing Cameron’s charmed upbringing and career and leading a party that was as old and almost as soiled as the other two. I say to this lot: why haven’t you been paying attention for the last three years?
As the Orange Book suggested before he was even an MP, Clegg is as much of an anti-statist liberal as Cameron is a socially liberal conservative. (Likewise the sadly defenestrated David Laws, though Vince Cable can’t seem to make his mind up about which side he’s on, and is now behaving like more of a human being than his devotees gave him credit for.) I suppose the legions of students who in the end failed to turn out for Clegg hadn’t read this book either. The rape camp have desperately peddled the line that “there is a progressive majority in this country”. I suppose it depends what you mean by “progressive” (though I wonder what Orwell would have thought of the word being claimed by Brown, Blair, Balls or either Miliband) but it’s a dubious claim: it’s very lazy, and I think insulting, to assume that the bulk of Lib Dems would see their party as some sort of slightly more competent offshoot of Labour, rather than representing a wholly separate tradition of liberty that the past 13 years have undermined. Indeed, of all parties they seem closest to rejecting the left/right bifurcation. Perhaps the “progressive majority” was less of a logical stretch under Paddy Ashdown or Charles Kennedy, but Clegg has undoubtedly moved his party away from the social democrats and nearer its pre-SDP radical liberal traditions, just as Cameron has moved his party from the ideological hard right to the pragmatic centre-right – which the tribal left has also done its best to ignore, though the tribal right has not. (The obvious rejoinder to them is: if you can’t win a majority after 13 years of Labour government, a useless Scottish prime minister and the worst economic crisis since the ’30s, you never will again.)
If all that wasn’t enough of a hint, Clegg said during the campaign that he would open negotiations with the party with the biggest mandate from the electorate, which was never going to be Labour. Many of those claiming to support a ‘new politics’ were horrified when he stuck to his word. So anyone who thought Clegg would defy the arithmetic of seats, and prop up the government he has spent his leadership reviling and intellectually dismantling, was fooling himself.
I said in my last post before the election, “the figleaf of a deal with the Lib Dems would probably be the best result – for [the Tories] and us.” I stick by that (albeit with reservations about power grabs like changing the rules on the dissolution of parliament). A Tory prime minister will implement the best bits of Lib Dem thinking, and the Lib Dems will keep a check on the worst excesses of the machine that is historically our natural party of government. Labour should go away and examine why they became so arrogantly removed from public sentiment, so captured by vested interests and so scared of democratic reform. Part of the problem is that, instead of putting it that way, they will doubtless pay consultants to answer the question: “how did we fail to communicate our message to the C2s?”