Monday, May 17, 2010

Into Coalition-my thoughts

It has been quite a month to be a Liberal Democrat-we find ourselves on a journey none of us predicted.

We can be proud of the campaign we fought both on the ground and in the air. We saw the birth of Cleggmania after Nick's superb performance in the televised debates which caught the public's attention and energised the campaign. I think that we all got caught up in the optimism of the moment which came with the spring sunshine. Liberal Democrat hopes and expectations soared. I even dusted my SDP "the time has come" mug! The Guardian urged readers to support this "Liberal moment".

The results came as a shock-the Liberal Democrats polled the most votes ever (6.8million), the highest share of the votes (23%) but just 57 seats-a net loss of 6. It was as diverse as it was unexpected. We held seats in the south west that the Tories had expected to win, but lost Oxford West and Abingdon; gained Redcar but not Watford; Eastbourne but not Islington South; gained Derby South but lost Rochdale. In Norfolk, Simon Wright ousted Charles Clarke in Norwich South, Norman Lamb increased his majority again in North Norfolk and our vote went up in every consituency in the county. Nationally we gained ground and new 2nd places in many seats and fell behind in others. I was especially pleased to see Naomi Long defeat Northern Ireland first minister, Peter Robinson, for the Alliance in Belfast East and old friend Stephen Twigg who was returned for Labour in Liverpool West Derby.

For the first time since 1974, the country found itself with a hung parliament-the Tories gained 90 odd seats but not given the overall majority they had expected months before; Labour lost 90 seats but avoided meltdown and showed resilience in London and the North. The BNP were destroyed in general election and locals.

My first thought was that a progressive alliance was the answer-the traffic light initiative which I dreamed of. However, there problems: the maths did not add up-any progressive alliance would be unstable; Labour in their hearts and minds were turning their attention to opposition and the election of a new leader. Then the big gamble happened-the Liberal Democrats began negotiations with the Conservative. A minority confidence and supply agreement would have left the Tories able to call a snap election when it suited them.

Instead, a full coalition agreement was agreed- including a referendum on AV (not ideal but better than FPTP), other constitutional reform measures; many of Lib Dem manifesto demands were accepted by the Conservatives-along with 5 cabinet and 15 other governmental posts offered.

For me, the special conference showed how united the party was in the face of this unexpected turn of events. It is an opportunity to step out of the comfort zone of opposition, to put Lib Dem policies into action-that is what I went into politics more. The Lib Dems can liberalise the Conservative agenda. It won't be easy but we need to make it work. Maybe the Liberal moment is here after all.

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