With the opposition parties in tatters, we're in danger of sleepwalking into a one party state

With the state of the left-leaning parties today it would seem that the Tories are here to stay

Norman Baker
Monday 10 August 2015 19:05
Lib Dem leader Tim Farron said the House of Lords is 'rotten to the core'
Lib Dem leader Tim Farron said the House of Lords is 'rotten to the core'

It seems extraordinary, just after a general election that produced only a narrow majority for the Conservatives, to countenance a one-party state, but that is what we are now facing. The warning signs are flashing, clearly and urgently.

In the Commons, the opposition is cowed and aimless. After a terrible result in May, especially north of the border, a future Labour majority now looks like a pipe dream. Meanwhile the party tears itself apart over future direction with a real chance it will split. It looks increasingly likely that Jeremy Corbyn will win.

Jeremy is a principled and likeable man, but then so was Michael Foot, and he is likely to suffer the same fate. Already the Tory press who are secretly willing him on are preparing their blunderbusses for what they see as a sitting duck. Not that there is salvation to be found in any of the other three candidates: dull, unambitious, unthreatening, all of them.

The Lib Dems may well have an energetic new leader in Tim Farron, but they were reduced to a pile of rubble at the last election, while the Green Party is stuck on just one MP. The feisty Scot Nats have their tails up, but they lack the legitimacy to challenge the Tory Government over English matters, and have replaced the Labour and Lib Dem MPs who did have that legitimacy.

But just in case the opposition parties can somehow get their act together, the Tories are pressing ahead with the boundary changes that the Lib Dems blocked in the last parliament, changes that will increase the Tory majority by 30 or 40.

Nor can we look to the Lords, where Cameron and Osborne have already stated they want to appoint a phalanx of new Tory peers. So the most bloated parliamentary debating chamber in the world is about to get a whole lot bigger, and at some cost, which rather undermines the ostensible case for fewer MPs in the Commons. We are to have fewer elected opposition MPs and more unelected peers appointed by the Conservative Prime Minister.

Then there is Scotland. It is ironic that many people in England voted Tory to stop the SNP, a teaspoon of Tory fear able to extinguish a bucket of hope, because the election of a right-wing Tory government is more likely than anything else to revive the call for independence, a call I fear this time that will be successful. Even if it is not, English votes for English MPs beckons in some shape or form. Either way, the Tory grip on England will be strongly reinforced.

The other massive electoral advantage the Tories have is money, and they are now taking steps to load the scales even more in their favour. At the last election, they had more money to spend than all the other parties put together, and make no mistake, their money bought seats.

Now they are looking to introduce union reforms and end the practice of check off, both likely to deplete very substantially the funding available to the Labour Party. Indeed, that appears to be the sole motivation for these changes.

In parallel, we are seeing attacks on other balancing elements essential to a functioning democracy. The appointment of John Whittingdale to be culture secretary is a very clear sign that the BBC is to be eviscerated when Charter renewal comes up shortly, to the delight of Rupert Murdoch and the rest of the right-wing media. We are already seeing signs of a new, tame BBC, such as the recent excruciating piece on the Today programme when Jim Naughtie bowled the softest of balls to a Tory MP there to lionise at length so-called country sports.

Meanwhile, legal aid is disappearing and with it those public-minded legal professionals who often act in the public interest rather than their own. And just to be in the safe side, there is the review of the Freedom of Information Act which has been much too effective at producing embarrassing information about our rulers.

Those interested in the continuation of a viable multi-party democracy need to wake up, act and act together before it is too late.

Norman Baker is a former Liberal Democrat minister

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