Fickle Liberal democrats

Charles Kennedy, the engaging (and recently engaged) leader of the Liberal Democrats, has given the game away in his interview with Jackie Ashley in today’s Guardian: "From now on, he insists, the Lib Dems will cooperate with other parties only when it’s in Lib Dem interests to do so and he is as likely to do deals with the Conservatives as with Labour in future." So much for those on the left who have been arguing that proportional representation (PR) for elections to the House of Commons (sneakily referred to as "electoral reform" as if it was self-evidently preferable to the present system) would ensure a virtually permanent centre-left alliance between Labour and the LibDems which would always command a majority in the Commons, and thus be able to govern Britain for the indefinite future, condemning the Tories to perpetual opposition. In fact the LibDems, unattached to any great interest group in the State, and free from any coherent philosophy or ideology, have always been opportunistic, a loose cannon on the political decks which is capable of rolling this way or that, depending on the waves and weather at any given time. The bulk of their MPs at Westminster are certainly leftish – more so on many issues than New Labour, as who isn’t?; but that’s not necessarily true of their members in the country, some of whom are quite happy to work with the Tories in local government so long as it ensures them a place at the top table. PR in elections to the House of Commons would invariably give the LibDems the balance of power and thus make the party with the least support of the three the permanent king-maker. Kennedy’s remark to Jackie Ashley shows that in such a situation they wouldn’t hesitate, if it seemed to be in their interests, to switch their support from a Labour government to a Tory opposition, thus putting the Conservatives into No. 10. No wonder Tony Blair is reported to have lost interest in "electoral reform". PR would be ideal for elections to a democratic (i.e. elected) second chamber, but not for the House of Commons where governments are made and unmade.

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