Leading article: Mr Clegg should act in the national interest

Share
Related Topics

The votes are counted and the parliamentarians returned. But still the political complexion of the next government is not clear. Welcome to coalition politics. The negotiations between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives are continuing. Meanwhile, the Labour Party waits in the wings, ready to do their own deal should those talks break down.

There is nothing unseemly about this process. In stable political systems across the world, parties fight robustly on distinctive policy platforms in election campaigns in order to win as many votes as possible. And then, when the campaign is over, they look for areas of compromise between them. This is what the public expects in those countries with proportional voting systems. It is what the public expects here in Britain now.

There are areas of agreement between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, from reforming the banking sector, taking the lower paid out of the tax net, and giving schools with a less well-off intake more money. There are also areas of profound disagreement. David Cameron laid out his party's red lines in his speech last week, citing immigration, defence and Europe. But the Liberal Democrats will have their own red lines. They will doubtless be demanding a constructive approach to relations with our continental partners. On immigration, the price of the scrapping of the Liberal Democrats' amnesty on migrant workers could be an end to the Tory proposal for an annual cap on migrant numbers from outside the European Union. This would represent a fair compromise.

There is also scope for agreement on economic policy. The two parties should split the difference between them on reducing the deficit in 2010/11. Public spending cuts of £3bn by next March ought to be just about bearable for the economy, although the Liberal Democrats should press for a contingency plan if Britain slips into a double-dip recession. Meanwhile, the Tory policy to raise the inheritance tax threshold should be postponed.

Such a deal would be contentious within both parties. Tory backbenchers will meet today and David Cameron is likely to come in for some severe criticism for failing to win an outright victory. This anger could easily spill over into hostility to an accommodation with the Liberal Democrats. The right-wing Tory defence spokesman, Liam Fox, has already broken the spirit of consensus between the two front benches by arguing that the Conservatives will not be "held to ransom" by the Liberal Democrats.

Mr Clegg too is going to face internal dissent if he does a formal deal with the Tories, with many of his MPs and party members more instinctively comfortable with a partnership with Labour. But if an agreement could be reached between the Tory and Lib Dem leaderships on the economy, Europe, education and taxation, that would surely be welcomed by the wider country.

Yet there is one issue that ought to be a deal-breaker for the Liberal Democrats: electoral reform. Those who dismiss this as an arcane irrelevance at a time of terrifying economic storms are profoundly wrong. Britain needs this reform to unlock a fairer, more fully democratic system of politics. Such a system would make Britain better prepared to withstand and respond to economic shocks. Moreover, the latest opinion polls suggest that the public is in favour.

Those with a vested interest in the old system must not be allowed to slam the door on this golden opportunity for change. And Mr Clegg must not allow himself to be bounced into accepting a poor deal by scare stories about what the financial markets will do if he refuses to fall into line promptly. The Liberal Democrats should walk away from any agreement with the Conservatives that does not include a cast-iron commitment to comprehensive voting reform. The national interest demands nothing less.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

The Jenrick Group: Project Manager

£35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

My Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent
African elephants in Botswana photographed by television presenter Chris Packham  

We've made incredible progress, but there's still more to do to make sure we save the elephant

Hugo Campbell
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'