Wednesday, 12 May 2010

A real rollercoaster

The events of the last few days have been a real rollercoaster, from the highs of the election campaign and the surge in Lib Dem support during the campaign, to the lows of polling night, through several days of tense negotiations to finally agreeing to a five-year coalition deal last night. I know that to many people the place where we have ended up will seem at the very least suprising, so I thought I would put down my thoughts.

My starting point is that we have to respond to the hand that the electorate deals us. No party got a majority of MPs, and even the most successful party didn't get much more than one third of the votes cast. In that situation, one party trying to run the country on its own was unlikely to be sustainable for the long term. I suspect a Conservative minority administration would have been followed a few months later by another General Election. In that election the Conservative demand for a clear mandate and 'strong government' would almost certainly have resulted in a five year majority Conservative government.

Against that backdrop, the only alternative was some form of co-operation between two parties - something that the Lib Dems have always argued is quite normal in most democracies.

Working with Labour would have raised a number of issues. With Gordon Brown kept in post, many people would have accused us of thwarting the will of the electorate. With Gordon Brown gone we would have ended up with a second successive Prime Minister who had not been elected through a General Election. Furthermore, even Lib + Lab votes would not have been a majority in the Commons and the instability of relying on Nationalist votes would not have given us a stable government.

In the end, it was clear that Labour MPs were not ready for joint working, as many said publicly. In particular, there was no appetite for a move on reform of the electoral system which in our view is the key to unlocking more progressive politics.

This left only one option - a coalition with the Conservatives. We had always said we would negotiate with the largest party first, and the Conservatives proved willing to adopt a large number of Lib Dem policies, including putting through legislation to give a referendum on a preferential voting system, as well as fairer taxes and a greener economy.

Clearly, the jointly agreed programme does not give us everything we want as Lib Dems. But it means that a lot more Liberal Democrat policy and principles will be put into practice in government than any of us could have dreamed just a few weeks ago. Let us hope that we can now demonstrate that different political parties can work together for the good of the country.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Thank you!

I'm delighted to be the first Member of Parliament for 'Thornbury & Yate' - indeed at one stage this evening I was the first Lib Dem MP in the country!

The full result was:

Steve Webb (Lib Dem) 25032
Matthew Riddle (Con) 17916
Roxanne Egan (Lab) 3385
Jenny Knight (UKIP) 1709

It was a great honour to get more than fifty per cent of the vote for the third General Election in a row. I think an hour or two of sleep may be called for!