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I returned to my hotel at half past ten last night, having drunk just enough Kräuser to make Labskaus palatable, to find a Giant Smug Cameron Face grinning at me from a lectern outside 10 Downing Street. “The Queen has asked me to form a new government,” he began, and I started to wonder if I should have had more beer after all.
So we have a new Tory government. It plans to fight the deficit, but yet to raise the inheritance tax threshold to a million pounds. It promises an end to the National ID Card scheme and database, yet wants to crack down on immigration, especially those who have the audacity to not speak English very well. It promises to make the poor better off, but it seems to want to achieve this by paying people 150 quid to get married while they sell off what public services we have left.
It says “Britain is broken” and means, as all parties mean when they push that agenda, “Britain is changing, we don’t really understand how or why, and we’re a bit scared”.
But this Conservative government is a little special because, even at its heart, it is also a Liberal Democrat government. The two are in coalition for the first time in 60 years, and no-one’s really sure what will become of that. Do we dare hope for something good?
It’s quite telling that not only do we have a hung parliament, in which no party has been given an overall majority, but we don’t even have an easy coalition either.
Despite 13 years of dubious wars, expenses scandals, erosion of privacy and our worst recession since the 1930s, Labour still command nearly a third of the vote. Despite widespread fear and mistrust amongst the young, the Conservative party command over a third. And the Lib Dems are still a non-entity for a lot of people – not having been in power for over 70 years, we have no way of knowing if we can trust them or even if they’re competent.
Though there were campaigns asking people to vote tactically in order to deliberately produce a hung parliament, no-one seems happy with any of the options it’s produced. A Labour / Lib Dem coalition was unpopular as it could have meant another four years of the same PM, cabinet and policies. The Conservative / Lib Dem coalition that we now have was unpopular too, with many staunch Tories and Lib Dems accusing their party of turning traitor or selling out. And the alternative to these was a minority government, which would have been no different at all to a majority one except that we’d probably all go to the polls again much sooner.
But on the prospect of electoral reform, which all three parties have talked about and a good proportion of the electorate are in favour of, could we have asked for a better result? The Lib Dems have been pushing their agenda strongly, and at least a referendum seems to be on the cards. The Conservatives also seem to be coming around to the Lib Dems’ plan to increase the tax threshold to help those on low incomes, so perhaps the poor won’t be shafted after all.
I do worry about the next election, though. Labour has a tough job to ditch its reputation and win voters back. Even with Proportional Representation, the Lib Dems don’t have enough support to rule outright. And Cameron’s modernism and willingness to dish out cabinet seats to the Lib Dems could spark an all-out war in the Tory ranks. If we thought all the parties were pretty unappealing at this election, it could be a whole lot worse next time around. Who will we elect when we don’t trust anyone?