Alex Massie

A Text for Dave and Nick

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Hold hands, gentlemen, and say together:

Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope.

And this, as I suggested a long 36 hours ago, is what it's all about and why this agreement needs to be for a full parliament:

[T]he stakes in this game are much higher than the question of who wins what and who gives what up in the next few days, weeks and months. There is - no, there may be - an opportunity for Cameron to redraw the map in such a fashion that the Tories could be the "natural" party of government for years to come and that far from achieving the occasionally-dreamt-of "reunification" of the liberal and labour movements British politics will be dominated by the centre-right instead.

Granted, this is looking some way ahead and granted to it would require enormous boldness, no small measure of bravery and considerable imagination to achieve. But one can, if tentaviely, see how it could happen if - if, I say - Cameron has the vision and the conviction to do it. It may be that Cameron will eventually, gradually have to take the lead on widespread political reform and that this might indeed require changing the voting system.

Again, that need not be the immediate priority - the public finances and public sector reform take those palms - but if Cameron can convince Clegg that he is serious about this then he can, as Sunder suggests, extract a handsome price: namely that the coalition, having weathered the worst of the financial storm and embarked upon political reform, would stand for re-election on a joint ticket.

Audacious? Certainly. Difficult? Undoubtedly. Impossible? Not entirely. Such an arrangement could even, perhaps, be extended to an agreement that, in a smallish number of seats, the Tories would give way to the Liberal candidate while in others the Lib Dems would give the Tories a free run.

This wouldn't put Labour out of power forever (doing so would not in any case be healthy) but it could give Cameron and Clegg ten years in which to make their mark while, crucially, giving a Toquevillian freedom agenda time to take root, grow and flower. In such a scenario - however far-fetched it may seem - the localist, decentralising ideas the parties share would have become the orthodoxy, the tax system would be fairer and simpler, government would be both more accessible and accountable, public services would be utterly transformed and so on and so forth...

But the second term is crucial because even if Britain's fiscal predicament weren't so galling the best and brightest reforms that can be culled from the parties respective manifestos will take time to bear fruit.

[...] A formal coalition still strikes me as being the best, least risky endeavour in the short-to-medium term; it could also be be the arrangement that offers the greatest opportunity and riches in the long-term if  - and it's a deficit-sized if - Cameron and Clegg have the imagination and bravery to go for it. Even then it might not work but it is, I think, worth trying... I should have mentioned civil liberties there too - one area in which the new government can and should move swiftly.

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.

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