As the 2010 British General Election begins with David Cameron and the Conservative Party polling in majority government territory, observers of this election need to ask themselves an important question:
Is the Labour Party desperate? And, if so, how desperate?
Apparently, Transport Secretary Lord Andrew Adonis is viewing this election with a desperate plea to British voters: don't split the left-of-centre vote. In an op-ed appearing in the Independent, Adonis writes begins by noting that, unlike the Liberal Democrats, Labour could actually govern, and insists that the Lib Dems could help:
"Nick Clegg will spend the next month attempting to cast a 'plague on both your houses'. The truth is that the Lib Dems, for all their local opportunism, have national policy that is similar to Labour's. The difference is that Labour can implement its programme. The Lib Dems have no realistic chance to implement theirs without a Labour government. In Labour-Tory marginals, a vote for the Lib Dems is a vote which helps the Tories against progressive policies. And in Labour-Lib Dem marginals every Labour MP returned is a seat in the Commons more likely to put Labour ahead of the Tories and therefore better placed to form a government."But even if this were the case, Adonis' argument absolutely begs a pivotal question:
Would the Liberal Democrats want Labour to govern?
Adonis seems to think that they should. In fact, as Adonis points out, Labour has a history of taking the Liberal Democrats' best ideas and implimenting them.
"Philosophically it is a nonsense to pretend that the Lib Dems – or the 'Social and Liberal Democrats' to give the party its original name – are equidistant between left and right, or Labour and Tory. The Liberal party of Gladstone, Asquith and Lloyd George fought the Tories relentlessly to introduce democracy and social rights. Keynes and Beveridge – Liberals both – produced the rationale and the blueprint for the modern welfare state enacted by Attlee's Labour government after 1945."But Adonis' argument fails on one central point: the reason Labour implimented the Lib Dems' policy proposals is because they perceived the party as a threat.
And depending upon whatever poll one consults, the Liberal Democrats may be as big a threat to Labour as ever -- particularly with British voters expecting a "hung Parliament" (known in Canada as a minority government).
But many Liberal Democrat voters would be more than justified in asking themselves an important question: if we're expecting a hung Parliament, what would make us more powerful: giving our votes to Labour candidates in order to stave off a Conservative government, or as a large and powerful caucus holding the balance of power?
It's a question that Adonis declines to answer, although he does remind Liberal Democrats that the last government in which their party cooperated with the Tories was replaced by the Labour Party.
As the third party in any poll, however, it's clear that the Liberal Democrats will very likely not govern -- barring a miracle. So the standing question becomes this:
What would make the Liberal Democrats more powerful and influential? Electing a strong Lib Dem caucus on May 6 so they can play kingmaker in a hung parliament, or simply giving up the crown well in advance?
Lord Andrew Adonis has offered his answer, but it's a predictably partisan answer. Whether Liberal Democrat voters reach the same conclusion won't be seen until the voting concludes.