Sunday, 20 February 2011

Hoping for more of the different.

I don't like the current government of the UK. I don't like the policies they are implementing, and am terrified by the speed with which they are implementing them. I have marched in protest, and expect to march again. People are talking about the imminent collapse of the Liberal Democrats, about left-wing voters fleeing in their droves to the Labour Party to take refuge under a banner that is indisputably red. Yet in spite of the twinges of betrayal and the slight feeling of naivety, I continue to support the Lib Dems. I'll even risk wearing the cuckold's horns a second time, because there is something larger at stake.

In its most prominent outward expressions, the Westminster system of Parliamentary democracy is, as systems of Parliamentary democracy go, crap. It is oppositional rather than constructive, with little room for considering what your opponent is bellowing at you from across the table. It is macho and swaggering rather than collaborative and consensus-building, with witticism and rhetoric more important than well-reasoned argument. I often feel as if PMQs feels more like two dogs competing at covering the despatch boxes with wee than a debate. And it's not as if there aren't alternatives; I'm a long-standing fan of the German electoral system, but both the Scottish and European Parliaments are committed to more constructive debate and policy building, at least in principle. Westminster is no longer, "the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried".

One of the reasons that I have always voted Liberal Democrat at national level is because they represented the only real chance for a shift in the way Westminster politics was conducted; not only because changing the electoral system has been a manifesto promise since the party was founded, but because a strong third party was the only effective answer to the combative style of government which the UK Parliament so proudly epitomises. AV is not the ultimate solution to this problem (though I'll vote for it), but a demonstration to the people of the UK that there can be other ways of governing would be a powerful step. As Jimmy Carr put it, "I'd vote for AV, but it wouldn't be my first choice".

As I said, I don't like the current coalition, or the compromises (to put it politely) that the Lib Dems have made for it. But I do believe that having a wider range of parties represented at the highest level is a good thing. There will always be governments I like more or less than others, but I'd feel happier either way the more representative of the wishes of the electorate they are.

I hope the Lib Dems survive. I hope they are able to take advantage of the Tories' waning popularity and a Labour leader perceived as weak to remain an electoral force, because this future is bright. We all love a good Portillo moment, but while the Lib Dems being in government is the louder headline and Lembit Opik is more popular with the media, I am proud to say that I was still up for Lucas.

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