It is now nearly three weeks since the general election and something still keeps nagging away at me.
Back on May the 10th and a few days after the election, the intensive Tory-LibDem talks which had been going full tilt, had run into difficulty. The Daily Telegraph was reflecting the deep anxiety that must have been sweeping through the Tory party that they had been ‘outflanked’ as the LibDems had now opened talks with Labour.
To add to Tory unease, Paddy Ashdown, was claiming that a minority Labour administration, with the support of the MPs in the Celtic countries would be stable, as the elected representatives from Ulster, Scotland and Wales, would never opt to put the Tories in power by withdrawing their support. The arithmetic was tight but doable and British commentators had now belatedly twigged that the winning target was 323, not 326 as SF wouldn’t be taking their 5 seats.
The next day and it had all changed again. And it was beginning to dawn on some people that the LibDems who had once claimed to be on the left of the Labour party really were going to get down and dirty with the Tories after all.
Voters who believed what the Labour party had told them in the run up to the election were pondering how it could be that those who desperately wanted to run the country and keep the Tories from wrecking the economic recovery were now, in the words of Alex Salmond, ‘ducking’ their opportunity for a further term?
Those mainlanders are a funny lot – can you imagine a similar scenario unfolding in Ireland with a party walking away from a chance of power no matter how slim or unreliable the numbers or how unfavourably it was viewed by the public or those who elected them? In the South a succession of FF governments held on by the skin of their teeth by relying on a variety of maverick TDs.
In the North, we listened ad nauseum to the UUP telling everyone how dreadful and undemocratic the arrangements in Stormo were and how dreadful it was that Police and Justice powers were being transferred and yet they till clung to their ministerial portfolios. Similarly the Alliance party had no sooner been offered the Justice post than they suddenly realised that, contrary to their official party policy which was still being proudly proclaimed on their website, that Stormont was, surprise, surprise, workable after all.
And of course the DUP who had claimed never in a political lifetime for Police and Justice duly signed up when Stormont, and therefore their role in government, was under threat from SF and the British Government.
Perhaps it was just that the British Labour party were not as desperate for power as the out of office Tories were, with Granny Cameron apparently being readied for a quick sale, or were not as keen on retaining power as the Warriors of Destiny (FF) or maybe they simply could not stomach co-operating with their arch enemies in Scotland, the SNP, or wanted a rest from government by having a spell in opposition or realised the country was bankrupt and did not want to be in power when the man from the IMF, he would surely say ‘NO’ when they tried to borrow more money?
Or maybe it was that New Labour never really got the hang of the whole idea of coalition, and couldn’t shake off the Old Labour familiarity with the biggest-party-first-past-the-post concept – unlike the New Tories who rolled out their slick negotiating strategy and had their lines well rehearsed when Nicky Clegg came a calling?
Alternatively, it may just have been that the Labour party was doing what they thought was right for the country and that even with the numbers adding up, things might look a bit of a mess to the ‘markets’ and perhaps they believed, unlike Lord Ashdown, that the temperamental Celtic types – or even what remains of their own left wing – couldn’t really be trusted – Labour was, perhaps, just being responsible?
But, from this side of the Irish Sea, where politicians would have to be oxtered-out of office screaming-and-a-hollering before letting go of the right to run the country it all looks a bit strange. So before we all settle down to the new order, perhaps someone can explain just how it was that those who appeared so keen to retain power suddenly persuaded themselves to surrender it so meekly?