Alex Hilton: Has Clegg delivered what matters?

It would have been helpful if a new government were in place by the time this column was written.

Alex Hilton
Alex Hilton

As this has not happened, you are getting something carefully crafted to apply regardless of whether there is a Lab/Lib coalition, a Con/Lib pact or a Conservative minority administration.

The difficulty in forming a coalition derives from the decades over which Liberal support has been made up of protest votes and tactical votes against the other two main parties. People have voted Liberal Democrat to keep out Labour or the Conservatives, or in frustration at the main parties' stances on other issues, such as gay rights, civil liberties, Europe, the Poll Tax or the Iraq war.

In short, there is about a 60:40 split in Lib Dem support between those who detest the Conservatives and those who detest Labour. In terms of coalition building, this is an unhelpfully even balance.

Nick Clegg has had to contend with MPs such as Lynne Featherstone and Simon Hughes, whose voters would be horrified if their MP backed a Tory Prime Minister. Most MPs can cope with horrifying their voters from time to time, but not when there is still the possibility of another general election within a year.

And it is not just the MPs in urban seats who have to worry. There is a large body of Lib Dem MPs in more rural seats who have benefited from Labour tactical votes; people who were told relentlessly by the Conservatives during the campaign that they would get a Labour Government if they voted Lib Dem.

The point of Lib Dem negotiations with the other parties has not been to eke out power for Clegg or Cable. It has been a desperate bid to get something they could take back to their members and voters that would justify having made a deal with the devil.

Proportional representation, rather than having been the sticking point in negotiations, ought to have been the deal-maker. That is the trump card the Lib Dems can show their voters, saying: 'At least we got you a voting system where your votes will count.' For that, Clegg will be forgiven. Without it, he will be punished.

- Alex Hilton is a Labour parliamentary candidate and founder of political blog Labourhome

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