Alex Massie

A Liberty Government? Also: Clegg is Not Kingmaker

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No, not a libertarian government, but an alliance between liberal Tories and Orange Book Liberal Democrats is arguably the closest thing we can get to it. Peter Oborne has a splendid column in the Observer today which makes the key point:

Indeed the prime minister and his supporters are wrong to argue today that the Liberal Democrats and Labour have far more in common than Lib Dems and Conservatives. Ideologically, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats share one massive idea. They are both doctrinally suspicious of central government. They favour localism, decentralisation, individual freedom and accountability. The want to destroy the big state and all of its paraphernalia: bureaucracy, secrecy and central control.

Incidentally, on the matter of electoral reform Peter raises the example of Conservavie opposition to devolution. That too was an honourable view but one that placed the Tories against the tide of history and sentiment. The result? A last ditch over-spilling with Tory dead. And they've not recovered since, despite a decade of good behaviour.

Now it may be - indeed is, I think - that the public is not clamouring for electoral reform. At least, not yet. But Peter is surely right: if reform becomes inevitable then a party bitterly opposing it for what are perceived to be entirely self-interested reasons will not, I suspect, be treated generously by the electorate. But, on the other hand, leading the process allows Cameron to "dish the Whigs" himself...

That said, all the talk of electoral reform may be little more than so much talk. If proposals were put to a free vote at Westminster - and a free vote seems the best notion - would there be a majority for them? I suspect not. Which may in turn be why Nick Clegg would be wise, if he wants to be in the Cabinet, to downplay his own commitment to PR.

Finally, all the talk of Clegg the "Kingmaker" is inaccurate. He was close to being able to be in that position but came up short. A Liberal-Labour deal won't work and won't be worn by the public and won't, no matter how you try and do it, have a majority. So it's a Tory-Liberal deal or a minority Tory ministry. David Cameron is already the king; the question is whether Clegg wants to be at court or in the wilderness.

Meanwhile, in other reading, a brace of characteristically excellent posts from Hopi Sen. First, looking at the Tory and Labour positions, secondly at the Liberal Democrat dilemma. And one of the good things about Labour's defeat is that it liberates John McTernan, most recently Jim Murphy's Special Adviser, to write again. This piece in the Scotsman is well worth your time.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articlePoliticsliberal democratstories