By Steve Gummer
Standing in the queue yesterday outside my polling booth and contemplating AV’s likely defeat I found myself talking to a lifelong Lib Dem voter. We chatted about voting reform (which I am in favour of), about raising the personal allowance and the need to raise the minimum wage. Throughout the whole conversation all I could think of was ‘How have we let this happen?’
There is so much progressive common ground between core Lib Dem voters and Labour voters that it is astounding we have found ourselves so divided. The only person this has really helped is David Cameron. On a first glance, it is easy to claim this is all the Lib Dems fault, after all they entered into a coalition with the Tories, they raised tuition fees to £9,000 per year and have signed off on Tory budget cuts that will cripple the country.
However there is also an element of blame that should lie with the Labour Party. The fervour with which Labour MPs and former ministers have attacked Liberal Democrats is staggering. So much so that we have overlooked the fact that our target should be David Cameron and not Nick Clegg.
For example, it has been described as politically untenable for Ed Miliband to appear on a stage with Nick Clegg but it’s fine for New Labour dinosaur John Reid to take the stage with the leader of the Conservative Party? Labour supporters have been falling all over themselves to tell me they are voting no to AV to get Nick Clegg without any regard to the fact that this is handing victory to the Tories, as well as reneging on a Labour commitment made in our own manifesto.
When the dust of the AV and local elections settles, the Lib Dems will be in disarray, their raison d’etre will have been lost for a generation. Labour will take a hit as Ed Miliband will have backed AV, been defeated and been defied by the majority of his party. David Cameron, despite budget cuts and job losses and probably even a few lost council seats will come out smelling of roses and we’ll have handed it to him.
For as much as I loathed the ease with which Nick Clegg slipped into bed with the Tories, it is important not to lose sight of the bigger picture. Despite Lib Dem backing, cuts to local authorities, to jobs and the heinous reforms of our healthcare system were made by the Tories. Some of the few positive things the coalition have done, have been done by the Lib Dems, for example the raising of the personal allowance and the introduction of the pupil premium, which is the only reason schools up and down and the country are not in total crisis. There is more that unites us than divides us.
The depressing bit is I feel it could all have been so different. If Clegg and Ed Miliband had put their personal differences aside and campaigned together for AV, then I think people would soon have realised it was the best option, a defeat to David Cameron could have been delivered causing him problems with the loathsome right-wing of his own party. Meanwhile the Lib Dems might have remembered what progressive co-operation feels like and party members like Vince Cable and Chris Huhne might have made genuine inroads towards Labour rather than having to vent their frustrations to an unsympathetic media only to be mocked by Labour banners.
Clegg’s personal politics are more right than left leaning but that doesn’t represent the whole Lib Dem Party. When it comes to progressive politics, they have things to learn from Labour but we too have things to learn from the Lib Dems, note the prison votes debate where it was Lib Dems fighting for the forgotten minority against Labour and Tory MPs.
The truly sad bit about the demise of AV isn’t the lost chance for voting reform that we will have to wait another 50 years for. Instead it is the division and vitriol that Labour and the Liberal Democrats feel for each other when progressives on both sides should have given Cameron the slap he so richly deserves. It is the feeling that the man who is privatising healthcare and scrapping social welfare across the country is going to get another undeserved victory and the feeling that we have only ourselves to blame.