Remember the day after Labour were elected in 1997? I was a third-year student. It was a sunny day. George Square gardens was full of students who’d grown up under a Tory government, dizzily wondering what a different future might be like. My Trotskyite friend Nicola, standing for president of the Students Association, stood on a table excoriating “this Tory government” until, collapsing in delighted laughter, she remembered that we didn’t have one of those any more.
Today, the day after the LibDem/ Conservative coalition agreement was announced, dawned cold. Indeed, last night, in mid-May no less, it hailed. Portents of great doom? The leftyverse seems to think so.
On the other hand, that shining New Labour dawn* lasted just long enough for them to introduce tuition fees. I spent my final year at university shivering on picket lines and painting sheet banners for anti-fees demos. And that was before they started declaring war on anyone the US told them to.
So let’s look on the bright side. Obviously, as a Green, I think Caroline Lucas’s election is a significant bright side. We know from the Scottish Parliament what a small number of Greens can do: drive the debate in a Green direction; state a clear alternative to politics-as-usual; and just sometimes create significant legislative change.
But there are a few genuinely good things in the coalition agreement. ID cards and (next-gen) biometric passports will be scrapped. No new airport runways in London, at least. Per-plane taxes, not per-passenger. An end to the detention of child asylum seekers. Central Government signed up to the 10:10 programme (though, wouldn’t it be nice if they signed up an organisation of non-symbolic size? Say, the NHS?).
So we can support some things. And Greens in the UK have, finally, a voice in Westminster to object to the many, many bad things that are coming. But perhaps the bright side to the betrayal of progressive voters by the Lib Dems is that it’s come straight out of the gate. We don’t have to go through the slow, incremental disasters of Labour again. We know that, like Labour, the new coalition might do some good things, but ultimately, politics as usual will only produce the usual. No vision. No joined-up thinking that, while talking about fighting climate change, we should try not to do things that make it worse.
Let’s stop swapping old Fettes boys for old Etonians with Westminster poodles. Let’s stop swapping pisspoor representation of women in government for… Theresa May. Please.
These are serious times. Serious times with occasional ace jokes, but serious times nonetheless. Time for real change? The England and Wales Greens are inviting progressive Lib Dems to join them, and here in Scotland we’re going one better – free membership with a torn-up Labour or Lib Dem membership card**. At the risk of making my weakness for Trot rhetoric glaringly obvious: let’s build from here.
*Possibly the scenes I described took place later than dawn. We were students, after all.
**We’re starting to suspect that the Green Liberal Green Seagull may have staged the shortest defection ever just for this moment. He’s a student, after all.