I remain convinced that the sublime instincts of the British people will cause them to make a decisive break with the past and vote for change. In fact, my money is still on a Tory majority of 40 seats or more
It seems I just can’t get away from him at the moment. They have the 24-hour news running in my outer office, and every time I come out for a breather – there he is. He’s churning the airwaves with his Polyfilla sound bites, all of them perfectly balanced, on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand feats of meaningless mutual contradiction.
With his purple ties, his neat grey suits and his air of youthful earnestness he’s like some cut-price edition of David Cameron hastily knocked off by a Shanghai sweatshop to satisfy unexpected market demand. I open the papers to find him consulted daily, like some oracle, about every problem from the Taliban to babies crying in the night – and in both cases, incidentally, he adopts the classic Lib Dem position of simultaneously favouring intervention and leaving well alone.
Boris asks: “Why are we putting up with this muddle? Can anyone explain the current ubiquity of Nick Clegg? Is it because Cleggie and his colleagues are finally about to break the mould of British politics and storm to victory at the next election? Is it because the Lib Dems have managed to capitalise on discontent with both main parties, and achieve a real shift in the opinion polls?
Absolutely not. The Lib Dems are still down at about 20 per cent, or less. They show no sign of ceasing to be the third party in British politics. They remain a dustbin for the votes of all those whose policy on cake is pro-having it and pro-eating it, and who think you can govern the country by sucking and blowing at the same time.
No, I’ll tell you why Clegg is all over the airwaves with his tough-but-tender childcare solutions. It’s because the media are obsessed with the idea that there is going to be a hung parliament – and that Clegg will be the kingmaker! In this fantasy world we go back to a 1970s-style Lib/Lab coalition in which Gordon Brown remains Prime Minister, shamefully clinging on to Downing Street with the help of the Lib Dems, while Cleggie and (say) Vince Cable are rewarded with seats at the Cabinet table.
As long as this media Cleggolatry continues, and as long as people are willing to talk about a hung parliament, it is worth examining the sickening consequences of such a deal. Why is Clegg willing to give Lib Dem blood to revive this corpse of a government? The answer is that, after 13 years of ruthlessly ignoring the subject, Gordon Brown is dangling before him the prize of minority parties across the world – a referendum on proportional representation. Keep me in power, mutters Gordon, and you will have the electoral reform that eluded Grimond and Thorpe and Steel and Jenkins and Owen and all the other centrists of the last century. Keep me in Number 10, he breathes, wrapping his arm round Clegg’s shoulders – and we will keep the Tories out forever.
It is, of course, bare-faced cheek from Gordon to suggest that we should change the voting system just as the country is about to use that system to eject him from office. It is positively Mugabe-esque. And it is exactly the opposite of what parliament and politics need. The great expenses scandal has shown what happens when you allow the party machines to stitch things up in their own interests. Why on earth should we respond to that crisis by adopting PR? Under any version of PR there is a list system that transfers the power to pick MPs away from the people and towards the party machines.
You end up with two types of MP and two types of democratic mandate; you promote the rise of extremist and fringe parties, such as the BNP, which has exploited PR to capture a seat on the London Assembly; and you end up with a system that is not remotely proportional. As Clegg knows full well, the effect of PR is greatly to magnify the influence of the third or fourth or fifth party – at the expense of the first or second. Look at Germany, where the FDP was able to hold the balance of power, and retain the foreign ministry for decades, in spite of winning only 5 per cent of the vote. Look at Israel, and the disproportionate influence of the minority religious parties.
All these are grave defects, but there is one final and overwhelming reason why Britain should not and will not adopt PR – that it always tends to erode the sovereign right of the people to kick the b––––––s out. Look at Belgium or Italy and see the disaster of coalition governments, endlessly forced to appease their constituent parts, chronically unable to take the decisions necessary for the country.
Imagine if the Lib Dems really held the balance of power. Think of the confusion. Are they in favour of tuition fees or against? In favour of means-testing child benefit or not? In favour of a supertax on £1 million houses or not? Who knows? Clegg recently called for “deep and even savage” cuts in public spending. Labour finally responded last week with – wait for it – a footling proposal to cut some of the 28 scholarships the Foreign Office funds at the College of Europe in Bruges.
You might think that was pretty sensible. These College of Europe characters earn shedloads on graduation, and a lot of the British scholarship holders turn out to come from other EU countries. You might have thought that no one, in current circumstances, would oppose this tiny cut. You reckoned without Mr Nick “Deep and Savage” Clegg, who condemned the proposal as “short-sighted.” There in a nutshell is the kind of inertia and hopelessness that would result from a Lib-Lab pact. There is a disreputable last-ditch plot afoot, to gerrymander the system and keep Gordon Brown in power. It must be exposed.”
This article appears in The Daily Telegraph in full today