The liberal-left commentariat are in full swing against the prospect of a Con-Lib Pact. The Independent's Steve Richards led the charge yesterday with a strong invocation not to deal with the dreaded Tories - they will never deliver electoral reform, he reminded his liberal readers. Helena Kennedy was another example as she appeared on the Andrew Marr show this morning to remind us that the Tories hadn't actually won the election, more people voted against then Tories than for them, and it would be a whole lot better for a 'rainbow coalition' to be formed with Labour at the helm. It took Labour supporting Rory Bremner to remind her that, technically, there's no brown in rainbows.
But are they all right? It is difficult for Cameron to deliver electoral reform, certainly, but how much easier would it actually be for Gordon Brown, many of whose own MPs are strongly opposed to the idea and would surely vote down any referendum proposal for change that he might try and make. As for the 'rainbow coalition', is it really more democratic to allow the Scots, the Northern Irish and the Welsh to ring-fence spending in their countries as part of a deal to keep Labour in power in England? Where then does the bulk of public spendcing cuts fall? Why should the semi-devolved provinces be dictating the politics of England? The fact remains (see post below) that Cameron has a substantial majority in England, and that a deal with the Liberal Democrats, should one be forthcoming, provides a coalition that represents a clear majority across the whole of the UK. Hardly undemocratic, and if Nick Clegg is having to settle for a less full-blooded commitment to electoral reform (and he is unlikely to come away with nothing at all) than he might get - albeit dubiously - from Gordon Brown, he will at least have recognised one of the clear mandates of the election - not to keep Brown's Labour party in power. He will, moreover, be able to show, for the first time in decades, that the Lib Dems are a capable party of government, and perhaps be part of forging a genuinely new politics.
It's clearly not going to be easy, especially given the deep-seated suspicion both parties' memberships have of each other, but it is time the liberal left outside the world of pragmatic politics took a more realistic view of what is actually happening, and stopped trying to pretend that there was some scenarion in which Labour still have a mandate to govern. It's also, perhaps, time to stop the pretence that Gordon Brown would somehow meekly step aside from Downing Street if any 'rainbow coalition' deal could be darwn up. Of all the political fantasies on offer, that one is the most extreme.