By the time you read this, the British Conservatives and Liberal-Democrats coalition government headed by David Cameroon and Nick Clegg would have met for their first cabinet meeting and, all the newly appointment cabinet ministers would have also met with their Senior Civil Servants and other Senior Advisers.
The Times newspaper called it “A very British revolution and the Financial Times simply said “Leaders see dawn of new politics”. But is it really?
As you know, the British general election held last Thursday yielded a Parliament in which no party has a majority of the seats-for only the second time in 80 years. That has left the Liberal Democrats, the smallest of the three major parties, holding the balance of power despite having won only 57 seats, or less than 9% of the total votes cast.
The current system in the UK, is what is know as first past the post-in each of the 650 constituencies, the candidates with the greatest number of votes wins the seats, with no points for the second place
Over the past few days, just after the election, it was very difficult for me to get a true picture of what was happening in London, as I was in the United States and news about the British election in America, outside Washington DC, was very snappy, especially on US television.
On arrival at Heathrow last Tuesday, I rushed to the newsstand to get newspapers so that I can get first hand reports about the latest happenings around the Westminster village. A quick glance at the newspapers headlines and inside page reports revealed that it was all smiles and expressions of mutual respect between the top-level negotiating teams of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, as they continued with talks to form a coalition government.
But over the years, I have learnt as a journalist that to get a true feeling of how “Joe Public” is thinking, one has to go to the letter pages after reading the news reports and comments. So as I snake my way from Heathrow airport to my house in West London, courtesy of London Underground, I turned to the letter pages of the seven newspapers I had brought at the airport.. And boy, I was not disappointed. “Vote Clegg get what, “one reader asked in his letter to the Independent newspaper.
The letters columns were full of outrage from Liberal Democrats voters at the prospect of their party’s leadership doing a deal with the Conservatives. Meanwhile, Conservative Party workers, rightwing parliamentarians and some journalists were all finding it hard to hide their fury at the idea of their party sharing power with the Liberal Democrats. And if I am not mistaken, such feelings run highest in the South-West of England, where battles between the two parties’ teams of voluntary supporters have long been characterised by an intensity that has not stopped short of violent abuse.
Having missed most of the fun during the campaign I was determine to find out from my local pub what has been happening. My constituency was one of the targeted seat the Conservatives must win to have a majority in parliament and they had a young black African- Caribbean man, Shaun Bailey as their candidate. But the news that met me at the pub entrance confirmed that I had won my 100 pounds bet that Labour will retain the Hammersmith seat.
Having met both candidates, I knew Shauna Bailey was no match for a well-seasoned Labour Andy Slaughter. But there were many who disagreed. That aside, the in-fighting between party supporters was another issue I met on the ground inside the pub. It was intense, loud and to a point very passionate. But those who follow politics only when there is an election misses one vital point.
Politicians of all colours are friends and, they most times end up working together when they are behind closed doors in parliament. In Westminster as in many other parliaments and legislatures around the world, there is a high degree of camaraderie between many MPs of opposing parties, which might surprise a public whose main impression of the Palace of Westminster is the highly unrepresentative shouting matches of Prime Ministers’ Question time.
Indeed, I have tried on so many occasions to explain to people who argue over politics that paradoxically, politics is like professional football. Throughout the game itself, the players kick lumps out of each other, cheered on by ferociously antagonistic bands of supporters who see their own side as uniquely virtuous and the opponents as beneath contempt. Then, when the game is over, while the opposing groups of fans are still chanting abuse at each other, the players line up to embrace. It turns out that they have much more in common with each other than their supporters are prepared to admit or even believe.
If this seems unfair to the world of debate, then just cast your mind to any Court of Law where two lawyers arguing against each other with unstinting ferocity, their wigs almost falling off with the violence of their disputation. Then few hours later, just down the road the next scene show the same two lawyers arm in arm walking off for a drink together or in some cases in the same car going home.
But this does not change the fact that there is a well founded fear if not profound concerns that the Cameroon-Clegg coalition government will failed in the coming months, because there is large number of Conservative Party members including MPs who still regard the Liberal Democrats as dangerous lefties who wants to give amnesty to over 6 millions illegal immigrants in the UK.
However, at one point on Tuesday when there were speculations that the Liberals will be talking to the Labour Party to form a “Progressive coalition,” the rightwing press went mad. Politics is tribal and the owners of most of the British press belongs to the Conservative blue tribe, so any move by the Liberals leader, Nick Clegg to keep Labour in power was seen as betrayal of the highest order because Mr Clegg had said during the election campaign that the party with the highest seat should be allowed to govern.
So the news that Gordon Brown was going to resign to win over the Liberal Democrats was bad news for the Conservatives on Tuesday.
THE Times editorial was ferocious; “Nick Clegg now has to make a choice between weakness and leadership. His party may well be feeble, in love with its own eccentricity and perfectly happy to be inconsequential but that does not excuse the statement that Mr Clegg made about his plan to begin formal talks with the Labour Party Having said repeatedly that the party with the most seats and the most votes has the right to govern, Mr Clegg’s voltre-face is bordering on the dishonourable,” the Times newspaper editorial concluded on Tuesday. (Mr Clegg had them by the balls, after all the Conservatives were oppose to a coalition government)
By Wednesday Morning however, the Times Editorial was calmer; “The New Politics,” it says; “David Cameroon has achieved a settlement that will provide strong stable government and change the way that politics is conducted,” the editorial screams out.
The change of tone and the euphoria in less than 24 hours got me thinking of what George Orwell (1903-50) said back then that ; “Political language, is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” Indeed, it also brings to a mind a conversation between Otto von Bismarck (1815 -98) and Meyer von Waldeck, in August 1867. Bismarck having listen to Meyer von Waldeck, said; “Politics is the art of the possible.”
However, many years later, J.K. Galbraith, (1908-2006) the Canadian American Visionary Economist who defined, and defied most conventional wisdom, in a letter to President J.F. Kennedy wrote that; “Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.”
This time last month, both the Liberals and the Conservatives were standing firm on their policies, then last Thursday, the people went to the polls and vote for this party or that party.
Even if most of them had not actually read through the manifesto, they voted for policies which in their minds had the force of pledges or promises. However, within days, after the election, the Conservatives and the Liberals in desperation for power have cancelled a large part of their commitments without a word of explanation or apology.
Today, the Labour Party is out of power after 13 years, and the Conservatives and the Liberals are in government talking about 6 billion pounds worth of cuts in public services and government savings that must be met within 12 months.
On the other side of the same of same coin, political commentators are welcoming the new government claiming that the new government is an expression of democracy because two parties with 60 percent of the votes are in power.
To me and a few others, when two political parties made firm promises one week, which they then sweep aside the next week before a new government has been constituted, means democracy has been deceived.
You remember Walter Lippmann (1889-74) an American political commentator who once wrote that; “Successful democratic politicians are insecure and intimidated men. They advance politically only as they placate, appease, bride, seduce, bamboozle or otherwise manage to manipulate the demanding and threatening elements in their constituencies.” Can I say more? Not really. See you all next week
By Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay