Election master plan for Liberal Democrats

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 May, 2010, 12:00am

Lies and misrepresentations by British ex-prime minister Tony Blair led the nation into the long and destructive war with Iraq. That unnecessary carnage is on many British people's minds as they vote in a general election today.

Even so, the state of the economy is the No 1 issue, according to the polls. Prime Minister Gordon Brown is convincing when he argues that the great recession wasn't his fault and Britain was one of the two important countries that led the fight to mitigate it. (The other being the United States.)

The Conservatives argue they would have done better, and not run up such debts on out-of-control social expenditures, as Labour did, thus leaving the country not enough room for manoeuvre when the crisis hit. The Liberal Democrats successfully steer a middle way, taking the best arguments from the Conservatives without falling into their trap of promising over-large cuts in government spending.

Most of the lower working class, at the bottom of the social pyramid, will vote Labour. But the upper working class and the lower middle class are where the swing votes lie. Conservative leader David Cameron, who led a spoilt life at Eton and Oxford and still comes over as a bit of a 'toff', will lose most of these votes.

Frustrated, these voters are starting to move into the Liberal Democratic camp. They have grown steadily in the past 20 years to become a powerful third force. If the party can capture, say, half of this grouping it is conceivable they could win the most votes - but not seats, as the Liberal vote is more thinly spread than the two major parties.

This is where we return to the anti-war faction, made up largely of the educated middle class. Many may relegate the war to second position in their minds and vote Labour again. They feel Brown is a safe pair of hands. But the Liberal Democrats may appeal more to a majority of them because it is the only party that was against the war, is against overdoing the connection with the US and is vigorously pro the European Union and euro currency.

This portion of the well-educated bloc, by and large, is cautious about a commitment to war and is convinced that government cuts shouldn't fall disproportionately on the social and health services. They don't want to see their own tax burden increased, but there are many other ways of increasing the revenue that the government needs to run down its debts, such as taxes on discretionary items.

Then they could save a lot of money by getting rid of Britain's nuclear deterrent, clearly a cold war anachronism. There is a need to prune the bureaucracy.

Still, there is no chance that the Liberal Democrats could form a government on their own; they should force the two major parties to form a grand coalition. As head of the opposition, the Liberal Democrats would have a field day. They should bide their time until the Labour-Conservative coalition falls apart in two or three years, then force a new election.

Then they would have a chance of becoming Parliament's largest party, able to dictate the terms of a new coalition.

Jonathan Power is a London-based journalist