It pains me to say this, but I am getting a bit sick of people bleating about the performance of the LibDems since their 22-month-old devil's pact with the Tory party. I mean the people who voted LibDem as some sort of febrile "protest" against the Labour Government rather than because they are "natural" LibDems.
I do, however, to a certain extent, understand their point of view. I live and vote in a constituency (Bath) which has never returned more than a few thousand Labour votes and it can easily be argued that a vote for Labour is a so-called "wasted vote". I admit to having flipped once or twice in my own voting record, usually with subsequent regret.
Bath is a peculiar place in many ways, an odd mixture of the "enlightened" and moderately well-heeled middle and upper classes (with quite a few so-called celebrities) and the lower-middles and working classes. The local council is a long-standing flip-fest between the Tories and the LibDems. I cannot be the only natural Labour voter who is middle-class in the whole damn' constituency, but like my counterparts have sometimes made the grave mistake over the decades of tactical voting - the very real cancer in our democracy that has crept through the body politic increasingly since the second world war, largely encouraged by the media and the puerile excitement of the "swingometer" and other election-night silliness. This tactical voting has also been facilitated by the pesky survival of a hopeless third "major" party - "Well if I want to protest against the government, I don't have to go 'all the way', but just sit in the middle somewhere. No harm done."
Well, there's plenty of harm being done now.
Before the last general election, I not only thought long and hard, I did a lot of research, including some tedious hours reading the manifestos. On election day, I walked slowly to the polling station and voted Labour with a truly heavy heart and many misgivings. I hated the Labour government of Blair and Brown. Hated the terrible attacks on civil liberties; hated the unbridled license given to the banks and the energy capitalists; hated so much. So much.
So why didn't I vote in the middle? Why didn't I vote for the LibDems? Why this time did I vote for the deeply degenerated Labour Party, who had abandoned their core principles, attacked the working people, the old and the poor? Well, I had been keeping a close eye on the LibDems for quite a while. Watched their performance. Saw what they were up to. Realised that politicians yearn for power and will find any excuse to get it. Remembered when the Liberal Party very nearly enabled the Tories to stay in power some years ago.
I also realised that one of the post-election debates was going to be about "popular vote". I faced the harsh and bitter reality that no candidate on the ballot sheet represented a party which would represent my views and my aspirations for a fair and democratic and decent society. I had to make my choice on what one of the three used to be, and what its core principles used to be. I had to make my choice knowing that, though my vote would be counted, it would count for nothing - except in my own conscience.
I have never been so glad that I voted Labour.
I happened to have some time off in London during the aftermath of the hung election and took me to Westminster and to College Green where a media tent city had sprung into being. The place was pullulating with journos and politicians as the deals were being formulated and the horsetrading being done. I accosted about half a dozen politicians on all three sides and engaged them in debate. For the most part, they were courteous and gave the impression of listening (apart from John Prescott with whom I had a row, part of which was televised and appeared on the BBC news). The point I made to them all (after introducing myself as an "ordinary Labour voter") was that the Tories should run a minority government and that forming a government in secret was fundamentally dishonest and undemocratic. "Let the debate be in Parliament," was my message. Interestingly, when the TV journos rushed over to Michael Portillo when he and I were talking, he said, "You should interview Dr ... here, not me!" (They ignored him.)
Yes, I know all the arguments against minority governments, especially in times of crisis. I know that the electorate may have had little stomach for a second general election so soon after that one. Yet we have to stick to our demands for open debate in a parliament where there is a vigorous and responsible opposition. Because we don't always get vigorous and responsible opposition does not negate the principle.
Rather than abandoning a major party which is betraying our trust and our (and their) principles, we should engage with them and demand that they truly represent us once again!