Early days for our infant coalition and, despite the wealth of promises, opinion and expert comment, we’re breaking new ground; the truth is that no one can tell just yet how it will go. Cameron and Clegg are putting in place some laudable quick wins – the fixed-term parliament, cancelling the third Heathrow runway and imposing a pay-freeze on the Cabinet – which serve to show real intent. I think, as I wrote in an earlier post, that this will be a good thing for us although my fear is that we may need to fail at it first time around.
What our previous government failed to see [or failed to admit, which is more likely] was that the electorate is a very different animal from the masses that have supported a fairly simple two-party system up until now. It’s not long ago and certainly within my memory, that the have-nots – the workers and dispossessed – traditionally voted Labour while the haves – landed gentry, professionals and the privileged few – voted Conservative. It seemed to me when I was a youngster, looking back at it from here, that only school-teachers voted Liberal Democrat then but I accept that as being a jaundiced view. Today voters can and expect to make up their own minds and, given that politicians have little or no credibility, it’s easy to see why Clegg’s open and apparently honest approach appealed so widely. Alright, there was a lot of wavering as ticks were put in boxes on voting day but the possibility of a coalition was well publicised and if that had really scared people then the Conservatives would have won their majority. No, this is a sea-change.
I remember the first time my Dad, retired now but a Master Bricklayer at the time, changed his allegiance from Red to Blue and it was quite a decision for him to make. Mixed emotions of disloyalty and desertion were only tempered by the the local building workers’ union having disowned him and his contemporaries for breaking away from employment by a few large national contractors to work self-employed. It was many years before he could work in the local area again and needed the Thatcher government to prize the vice-like grip of the unions off the workers.
Now we have an electorate that is better educated, able to take in every subtlety and nuance through 24-hour media and free from the traditional social constraints that kept sons voting as their fathers had. Blair saw this in 1997 and his ‘Presidential’ approach to government perhaps exploited the last real opportunity for an individual to hold autocratic power. The result of this recent election has shown that life has moved on for elected officials; that they are not above the law [well, that requires some further debate]; that they have to be more equal; that they have to be more accountable and that they are not immune from the consequences of their actions.
Cameron and Clegg still have power but they appear to be setting out a process whereby they will remain responsible with it and accountable for its consequences. I can’t think of an example of where a politician holding similar power has used restraint and not exercised it for the good of society and the sake of humility. For me, the first measure of real change will be just that. That will make us all long-term winners in a process that has, thus far, only provided a long-term loser, one James Gordon Brown. I like what Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Peace Prize holder, said about it – ‘Ultimately, the only power to which a man should aspire is that which he exercises over himself’.