Remember 1974 – Let’s Stay in Opposition 190

I argue urgently that we Lib Dems should not enter into any formal pact with anyone, but should remain in opposition to a minority Conservative and Unionist government.

I won’t pretend that last night was not horribly disappointing, as First Past The Post radically distorted our representation as usual. I went through this disappointment before, in February 1974 , in the election that first brought me in to political activity. Then, there was an even greater buzz about Jeremy Thorpe than there has been about Nick Clegg – and Thorpe was a spectacularly charismatic figure.

Third party politics really had seemed utterly dead in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Thorpe had inherited a parliamentary party that really could squeeze into a taxi, and Thorpe’s style, underpinned by Jo Grimond’s genuine radicalism, was an achievement more stunning than anything the Liberals or Lib Dems have managed since. It seemed to represent a re-ordering of the political system to accommodate the radical social changes of the 1960’s (and remember it was Liberal MP David Steel’s private member’s bill which liberalised abortion).

When Thorpe’s Liberal Party’s opinion polls rating during the first 1974 campaign hit the 23% level the Lib Dems gained yesterday, that was a quadrupling of support. When the actual percentage share at the ballot was 19.3% it was a huge letdown – and incredibly, 19.3% gave the Liberals just 14 seats – probably the most infamous result FTPT has ever delivered. 19.3% of the vote for 2.3% of the seats!!

That election morning was worse than this one. I had, age 15, worked almost every single non-school hour for 4 months leading up to the election, and had not slept for 96 hours, being out delivering leaflets. I shall never forget the burning sense of injustice.

The second election in October 1974 led to the Lib-Lab pact, which actually was highly succesful for three years in rescuing a near Greek economic situation. But the Liberals got no credit for it. The “Winter of Discontent” actually occurred after the Liberals withdrew from the Lib-Lab pact, but nonetheless the Liberals were swept backwards by Thatcherism in 1979.

That could easily repeat now. A Lib-Lab pact to claw back the dire economic situation would almost certainly be followed in time by a massive Tory backlash for keeping New Lab in power and losses of Lib Dems seats.

On the other hand, we have the scenario I blogged as tempting before yesterday’s vote:

a Cameron administration, with a tiny majority, propped up by some Northern Irish bigots, would inflict such pain on the majority of our society that, before falling after a few years, they would put the Tories out for a generation at least.

In so doing, they would greatly enhance the cause of Scottish and Welsh independence, and with the Lib Dems the second most popular party and the challenger in the large majority of Tory seats, the Tory demise would sweep in a radical change in more promising circumstances.

I rejected this scenario in favour of a good Lib Dem performance yesterday – but given the actual result, I believe the above is the best scenario we have. Let the Tories run a minority administration with unpleasant allies, restraining their excesses. In the next general election the Lib Dems will poised nationally to pick up a huge bonanza of Tory seats. Cameron will meantime be in the minority government position that killed Callaghan and Major electorally. But he will also face the problem that the electorate always punish anyone who inflicts an unnecessary election on them.

So play it long and cool. Resist the tempations of instant power and ministerial limousines, and especially resist blandishments of referenda on electoral reform in which the entire Murdoch and Tory media empires will again be deployed against us to devastating effect.

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190 thoughts on “Remember 1974 – Let’s Stay in Opposition

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  • wendy

    fantastic isnt it .. clegg so willing to do a deal with a party that has so embraced european fascism and remain unapologetic about it.

  • technicolour

    We don’t know about ‘willing’. Craig talks about ‘blandishments’ but I wonder if Clegg’s being bullied. Looks like the devil & the deep blue sea for him, to me. Hope he realises he has the choice Craig & others are suggesting, which is to hold the centre, and that it would not be an unpopular one. It will make him feel better, whatever he does. People are not just supporting PR; they refused to be scared off by the idea of a hung parliament and supported the Lib Dems regardless, almost a third of them, all the way through. No small thing, in these heightened, propaganda filled and hysterical times.

  • Mark Golding - Children of Iraq

    Well said Ruth – Nick Clegg is talking to a hypocrite, a man who declares he cares, who coses up to war-lord John McCain, a man who holds his hand out to Ashcroft to the tune of £4m and then spits lies like this:

    “We need reform of party funding and I’m the only leader of a major political party that has set out a clear and coherent way that we do it. We should have limits on donations that should apply to individuals, businesses and trade unions. I’ve suggested £50,000 a year as the limit, and in response to that some modest state funding of political parties which you could offset by cutting the cost of politics, reducing the size of the House of Commons and cutting the amount that’s spent during a general election. That is a sensible package and I hope others will take it up.” – WebCameron

  • other richard

    In my post above (search for “Suharto”), I should have said that BAT, which Craig praised, was one of many large firms happy to do business with the Suharto regime, which America installed and the UK (Conservatives) helped arm and prop up. Over one million people were butchered by Suharto. The UK and the US used their friendly relations with Suharto to loot the country of its resources, including its “human resources” – a terrible name to call human beings! Chile received similar treatment, and got given Pinochet.

    In response to Craig praising BAT, but attacking Sting, I don’t deny that corporations can do good. After all, corporations are just large conglomerations of various types of workers – there’s nothing inherently evil in that! The problem is who is in charge of them: wealthy CEOs, which the law has empowered with tremendous political and economic clout.

    I think it would be judicious to look at a corporation’s conduct across a range of countries, in Africa, in Indonesia, and elsewhere, before giving them – and, therefore, their CEOs – any praise. Tobacco companies, in any case, are hardly paragons of virtue: “Here, have a cigarette – it’s what all the cool kids do! No, no, it’s not harmful to your health at all.”

    Incidentally, I started smoking at 10 years old. I quit at 11 and haven’t smoked since. Fortunately for me, I never got addicted.

    BAT’s African footprint:

    . “In Uganda, 12 million people get malaria each year, and 110,000 die. BAT and other corporations blocked a government malaria prevention programme to treat farm workers’ homes with pesticides – because of fears the chemicals might contaminate their crops.

    . “Tobacco growing is not unique in its use of child labour but children on tobacco farms face particular risk from pesticide exposure and nicotine poisoning.

    . “In Kenya, BAT gives loans for seeds, pesticides and fertilisers and buys back the tobacco at a price of their choosing. To quote one farmer: ‘The loan the tobacco firm provides is really weighing us down. After the deduction you get nothing.’

    . “In Kenya, BAT’s political connections resulted in a new law compelling farmers to sell tobacco to BAT. It was already paying farmers less than other companies.

    . “BAT breached its own weak marketing code by allowing cigarettes to be sold singly – popular with children. BAT acknowledged it had begun an investigation into the alleged marketing breaches, but has failed to report publicly on its findings.

    . “BAT says it is trying to end child labour by partly funding the Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco Growing Foundation. In 2006, ECLTG’s entire income was US$ 2.7 million ?” one-fifteenth of what the industry earns from unpaid child labour in Malawi alone ?” and around half the salary paid to BAT chief executive Paul Adams.”

    These facts were extracted from ASH’s site – google “ASH” and “BAT’s African Footprint” – but are available from many other sources.

    Craig’s condemnation of Sting was entirely justified, but Craig’s lack of condemnation of the three main political parties giving corporations unprecedented control over our lives and economies is not.

    The Liberals are just another pro-corporate party. I hear no condemnation from them, let alone criticism of past Tory and Labour foreign policy abuses, which are legion. The Liberal Democrats could start with the lie, oft-repeated, that politicians failed to act over Rwanda – in reality, they actively assisted the genocide (google “Mark Curtis” and “Bloodshed and whitewash: Britain and the Rwanda genocide”

    When a political party is open and frank about what Britain is doing to foreigners, and increasingly to the British, then I’ll support them.

    The political climate is such, however, that attacking corporations – or, rather, CEOs – is considered anathema, while attacking other politicians over the real causes for the country’s prosperity, social decline, health and wealth inequalities is deemed a betrayal of one’s class.

  • Courtenay Barnett

    @ lwtc247

    It was Eisenhower in the US who spoke of the Military-industrial complex:-

    “This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. ”

    1961 speech.

    And these words actually summarise much that all the industrialised nations are involved in….the arms trade as the basis for industrial production. The new British government will not smash this template.

  • ScouseBilly

    other richard

    You do know ASH are an anti-tobacco activist group masquerading as a charity, don’t you?

  • Mark Golding - Children of Iraq

    Cameron on Trident:

    “Are we really happy to say that we’d give up our independent nuclear deterrent when we don’t know what is going to happen with Iran, we can’t be certain of the future in China?”

    Or Russia or North Korea or Pakistan or Israel – oh sorry, not Israel, they want peace?

    More fear mongering I guess, everyone is the enemy, and we must have these weapons at all costs. They provide us with the ultimate insurance policy which will protect us against all the vague uncertainties that the future holds. So Cameron will have us believe.

    Get a grip Cameron, you are supporting the military industrial machine and an increasingly dwindling insecure sector of the public and, appeasing Israel, who are desperate to attack Iran.

    Let us talk real Mr Cameron, let us be pragmatic for a change, if this matter endangers the very existence of Israel, sacrifice the West Bank settlements on this altar. Accept the Arab League peace offer, make peace with the Palestinians as quickly as possible. That will ease our situation in Iraq and Afghanistan and free British forces who might be required to defend the Falklands again.

    Iran would have no more pretexts for war with Israel. The masses of the Arab world would not support it anymore.

  • wendy

    “We don’t know about ‘willing’. Craig talks about ‘blandishments’ but I wonder if Clegg’s being bullied.”

    if he isnt willing he’d walk away. lets see.

    he is the envoy of paddy ashdown and lord owen .. war hawks … and neo con supporters.

    we are being brainwashed into believing that a deal has to be done because of the financial ‘crisis’ .. of course it doesnt but its the way the state works to get its way .. clegg is part of the state .

  • Ellie

    Tony @ 9:53

    I don’t know, but they already had AV in their manifesto, so it seems likely.

    Especially given the fact that, essentially, ALL the other parties have expressed willingness to join a rainbow coalition in opposition to the Conservatives. There might be enough members of small parties to counter any rebellion.

    Even the DUP are keeping the Tories at arms length and, meanwhile, the aforementioned Blues have already started to show signs of tearing themselves apart!

    Arguments that a Lib/Con coalition would deliver a more stable government are beginning to look mistaken as it looks increasingly as though Cameron’s MPs would rebel.

    Labour’s record of human rights abuses, warmongering and liberty encroachment disgust me but, I believe electoral reform is in the national interest. Turning our back on that opportunity now, because we don’t want to play with Gordon (or his successor) would seem to be cutting off our noses to spite our faces.

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