This was written (and amended as the day unfolded) on the day David Cameron became Prime Minister, for The Independent, but didn’t go in the paper.
The mayhem of the last few days seemed as if it would go on and splendidly on. I’m still half-expecting that by tomorrow morning the Lib-Dems will be holding talks with the Portuguese Social Democratic Party on an offer of a three way coalition with the Hell’s Angels.
The best solution might have been to keep the chaos going for four years, when it would be time for another election. So every day the news would say something like “This morning William Haig offered the Lib-Dems two places on the British Council of Buddhists, and the job of England football manager to Simon Hughes, but in a dramatic twist at 3.00 pm, following pressure from Paddy Ashdown, Peter Mandelson appeared at the treasury office and hung himself, thus removing a crucial obstacle to a pact with Labour. But further talks were stalled at midnight when David Blunkett threatened Chris Huhne with an axe, so negotiators have now offered the SNP independence for Stenhousemuir.”
Even when there appears to be an agreement they don’t mean it. So when the Tories say they’re willing to consider electoral reform, you know for some that means we should get one vote each for every field we own.
And it still seems as if the most important clause in the Tory offer to Clegg is “We pledge to do exactly what we were going to do anyway, but if you can find a spare chair we’ll let you watch.”
One consequence of these games is the Tories don’t know each day whether they’re supposed to flatter the Lib-Dems or denounce them as Euro-loving lefty scum. For example, the headline on yesterday’s Daily Mail said “Brown quits but cynically bids to keep Labour in power by guaranteeing two-faced Clegg voting reform,” which seems slightly tetchy. If the next talks had broken down the headline would have been “OOOO Clegg you make me MAD you bloody double-crossing ARSE that’s what you are an ARSE.”
At one point today a deal appeared equally likely between the Lib-Dems and either Labour or the Tories, and it seemed probable the winner would be announced by Davina McCall, saying “The government for 2010 will be (ten thumps of bass drum) – THE CONSERVATIVES.” Then glitter would pour over George Osborne’s head while Cameron covered his mouth and shrieked “Oh my Gooood.”
But despite all the entertainment, one lesson of the week is how all wings of the establishment unite to prevent any real change, no matter who wins an election. Senior civil servants insisted a change in the electoral process would take “At least the length of a full parliament.” So bringing in an Alternative Vote system would take roughly as long as it took to defeat the Third Reich. I’m sure the civil service would say “Indeed, but the relatively minor difficulties entailed by our engagements with the Axis powers should not and must not be compared to the more rigorous complications posed by alterations to the standard ballot paper.”
And throughout the process has been the cry that we have to find a solution to satisfy the markets. Because to solve the economic crisis caused by the people who run the markets, we must pick a government that doesn’t upset the people who run the markets.
So a consensus is created that the deficit must must MUST be cut, as if to oppose the cuts in welfare and public spending this entails is as futile as trying to stop the laws of physics, and if we don’t do it we’ll all catch leprosy or evaporate. And throughout the negotiations not one voice was raised to suggest the bulk of the population should maybe not be entirely made to pay for the unprecedented growth in wealth of the richest one per cent in recent times.
In the end, the final moments for Labour came when they were presented with a chance to cling on, but many of their own side preferred to give up. This seems fitting, as the history of New Labour is one of giving up. It was born because their members, bruised by defeat, gave up on radical change. They spent their years in office handing power to the bankers and invading Iraq because they’d given up on the more equal peaceful world that attracted most of them into Labour. Exhausted, and with no sense of purpose, they’ve ended up saying “What’s the point? Can’t we just go home?”
Which is why the best hope was that in the middle of the confusion Caroline Lucas of the Green Party might nip to the palace to say to the Queen “Tell you what, I’ll take over shall I?” and run the place while the other parties didn’t even notice.
Now – who can think of the best way of making “Conservatives and Liberal Democrats out out out” scan properly?
Thanks to Mark Steel for letting TMP republish this post.
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