Giving Away the Store


If it is true that David Cameron has reacted to Nick Clegg’s latest overture to Labour by agreeing to a whipped vote on a referendum on “proportional representation” –  it would mean that he and his team are not just unprincipled but also foolish.

Not only can there be no going back on that capitulation if Clegg comes back to the bargaining table with the Tories, the Lib Dems can now use that ill-judged maximum concession to extort more a extreme one from Labour.

Indeed they can be sure that whatever other concessions they are or are not able to extort from either main party – a freeze on Trident, a ban on nuclear power,  an immigration amnesty, immediate withdrawal  from Afghanistan – they will have achieved their most important aim.

And the Cameroons no longer have any leverage at all. Having caved on the question of the country’s ancient electoral system for the sake of office, they can hardly stand on principle if the LibDems demand even bigger surrenders.

It is true that the LibDems would prefer the simple imposition of “electoral reform” on an electorate that has given no mandate for any such thing. But the referendum that a Lib-Con coalition would now have to hold, could well succeed, especially as “electoral reform” would likely have the backing of the fourth party – the BBC. That would mean the end of a Tory party in its present form.

David Cameron is apparently willing to put his ambition to be Prime Minister before his party and more important before his country. Indeed at this point it is hard to imagine what principle he wouldn’t surrender in order to get to number10.  Whatever happens as a result of this week’s negotiations this apparent desperation and this cynicism are likely to be remembered by the voting public if another election is called in the next few months and it will not help the conservative cause.         

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Greater—not wiser

John Mullan elucidates the genius of Charles Dickens