Opinion: New Game + New Rules = Success; New Game + Old Rules = Failure

Like many Lib Dems my initial response to the prospect of a Lib/Con coalition was “no, please, not that!” However, following a few days’ reflection I’m now utterly convinced that my initial response, although entirely understandable, was misguided.

I urge Liberal Democrats everywhere to wake up to the very real possibility of the change we have longed for taking place, albeit in an unexpected way.

Imagine that the Westminster Fairy had granted your wish and introduced PR. How would politics work after that? Well apart from anything else, you can be pretty sure we would have a series of coalition governments, so how would we handle that? Yes, we’d have to grow up politically and learn to work together as far as possible, rather than wasting energy sniping at each other. Of course we’d have to create a new set of rules for this new game. We’d learn the value of being constructive rather than destructive, inclusive rather than exclusive, and fear could at last begin to give way to genuine respect. And as the new game showed itself to work better than the old one, the temptation to try and play it by the old rules would gradually wither away. Sounds wonderful doesn’t it?

Well, the Westminster Fairy hasn’t quite granted your wish for PR. Maybe that was beyond even her abilities to achieve with just one wave of her wand. What she has given you is a Chance card: “Advance to Coalition now”. So what are you going to do with it? Are you going to carry on playing the old game by the old rules, demonising the Tories, retaining your status as lone voices in the wilderness and thereby preserving your imagined political purity, or are you going to grab this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to start playing this new game that’s been your “crock of gold at the end of the rainbow” for so long, and demonstrate that it’s a better game?

Coalition government has long been regarded as something to be avoided at all costs as it runs so counter to the prevailing mindset. Or to put it another way, it spoils the old game because the old rules don’t work any more (only in a major crisis situation, such as the Second World War, does the national interest self-evidently justify a suspension of the old rules). So naturally the main parties create a climate of fear around it, in the hope of somehow dissuading voters from “voting for” a coalition, and under no circumstances should they contemplate electoral reform which would lead to coalition government becoming the norm!

So here you are, you’ve got coalition government, thanks to the “Achilles’ heel” of the present electoral system. Here is your opportunity to take full advantage and use it like a judo throw to expose the flaws in the existing system, and in particular the arguments against electoral reform and coalition government. And you do that, quite simply, by doing your utmost to make this coalition work, even if that means doing so through gritted teeth on quite a few occasions. Work to create the new rules for this new game as quickly, yet thoroughly, as you can, and whatever happens, play by them. Don’t be tempted to revert to playing by the old rules, otherwise before you know where you are the new game will have reverted to the old game and all will be lost.

And if you’re still struggling with the fact of “getting into bed” with the Tories (rather than Labour), think again – it’s a positive advantage. If you can make coalition work with a party with whom you have major differences, how much more convincing a demonstration of the success of coalition government could you ask for? Remember how the “worm” responded so positively to talk of co-operation between the parties?

You will be surrounded by those who are stuck in the old game and will do their level best to lure you back into their destructive ways, and the temptation will be great at times. Resist them robustly, get on with the new game, and eventually they will get to realise that they have become the outsiders and will want to join in. It will take great courage and determination but I’m convinced it can be done, indeed it must be done.

And lest you are tempted, put the motto on your wall: New Game + New Rules = Success : New Game + Old Rules = Failure.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • I agree with David Wright

  • You do not have to be left leaning to be progressive, Labour have shown over the past 13 years that they are not progressive but controlling

  • “the Tories are our political enemy, while Labour are our rivals for the votes of liberal-left progressives.”

    Not really, Conservativism is our enemy. It is rampent in the Labour party. Look at the way Labour was being dragged by the fingernails towards a referendum on PR as part of a coalition deal. A referendum they promised 13 years and more ago ! Look at the way the House of Lords remains a club for Labour party donors and retiring Labour MPs despite having a Labour Party Policy for an elected Lords for 100+ years.

  • I agree with David Wright.

    Presumably also, Old Rules + New Game = Failure

  • George Kendall 19th May '10 - 8:00pm

    I can’t see our identity being threatened by the Conservatives, unless something unforeseen were to happen, like a hundred right-wingers breaking away from them, and leaving a genuinely liberal conservative party.

    But a realignment of the left has been a project of many within both Labour and the Liberal Democrats, and that would be a threat to our independence.

    So one, surprising, benefit of a Lib Dem/Con coalition is it is less of a threat to our identity than the alternative.

  • David Wright 21st May '10 - 12:55pm

    I’m the bearded David Wright who wrote this article! Apologies to the existing David Wright for unwittingly trespassing on his identity, perhaps I should adopt an alternative title or pseudonym to avoid further confusion?
    As to the comments, use of the word ‘enemy’ in relation to other parties troubles me, in that it epitomises the tribal attitude that is in itself the enemy of success in this coalition. It will take a huge leap in philosophical awareness to let go of the tribalism that is so deeply embedded in our politics, and if even Lib Dems are not prepared to make that leap then the demands for PR will be seen to be merely self-serving and hollow. The only way you can really justify those demands is to make the coalition work, and the only way you can do that is through mutual respect for, and creative collaboration with, those you disagree with. That’s how most of us manage our daily lives, why should politics be any different? Let’s relegate tribalism to the sports arena, and let politics grow up at last.

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