Alex Massie

The British People Have Not Been Betrayed

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Norm does a good job pointing out the sillyness of this silly Johann Hari column in which Hari complains that the Liberal Democrats have betrayed themselves, their voters and the country by agreeing to advance Liberal Democrat goals from government. How shocking! Nevertheless, Hari complains that "the British people have not got what they voted for". Well nor have BNP voters but I doubt that Hari is bothered by that.

Nor should he be. In any case, no-one votes for a government of any stripe. All anyone gets to do is endorse a given candidate in their local constituency. After that  it's a case of letting the national chips fall where they may. Hari, however, complains that it's all most unfair that the people - for whom he presumes to speak and whose opinions he appears to know - have been robbed. Apparently:

55 per cent of us voted for parties of the (relative) centre-left – the same proportion who say they want a country that is less unequal and less unfair. In any other European country, where they have democratic voting systems, it wouldn't even have been close. This would have been a centre-left landslide, with Cameron humiliated.

Elections are supposed to be an opportunity for the people to express the direction in which they want the country to travel. By that standard, this result is an insult. Don't fall for the people who say the Lib Dem vote was "ambiguous": a YouGov poll just before the election found that Lib Dem voters identified as "left-wing" over "right-wing" by a ratio of 4:1. Only 9 per cent sided with the right. Lib Dem voters wanted to stop Cameron, not install him. So before you start squabbling about the extremely difficult parliamentary arithmetic, or blaming the stupidly tribal Labour negotiators for their talks with the Lib Dems breaking down, you have to concede: the British people have not got what they voted for.


Hari is also guilty of cherry-picking his polling data. A BBC poll last year found that while Lib Dem councillors preferred the idea of a coalition - in the event of a hung parliament -  with Labour, 61% of Lib Dem voters were happier to treat with the Tories.

And now an Independent on Sunday poll finds that while some Lib Dems are unhappy with their leadership, 59% of them think it was right to go into government with the Conservatives. Perhaps there's an element of hindsight bias to this but it remains the case that for now anyway, the public is reasonably happy with this government and that, outside the fevered wishful-thinking of metropolitan columnists, the Lib Dem vote is indeed as ambiguous as you would expect from a party divided between traditional liberals and social democrats.

That is, there are obviously some Lib Dem voters who are less than gruntled but it is absurd to say that all are or that there wouldn't have been others who'd have been equally, or more, dsgruntled had the arithmetic supported a Labour-Liberal coalition and Nick Clegg then endorsed a social democratic alliance despite not being a social democrat himself.

In any case whinging about the result is undignified  - though less ridiculous than screeching that the country has been betrayed simply because the result is a government one doesn't care for oneself and because Clegg kept his campaign promise that he would talk to the party that won the most seats and votes.

And again, we elect a parliament from which a government must then be formed, not anything else.

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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