November 19, 2012 by Jake Cantona
The difference between Quisling and Petain was one of approach and ending. Both believed that their course of action would be the most beneficial for the greatest number of their fellow countrymen. Whatever their reasons or motivations, they were wrong. While Quisling wound up on the wrong end of a firing squad, Petain lived on until the early 50s.
History, meanwhile, preserves Quisling’s name as a byword for treachery, a shorthand[i] for deceit. Petain is perhaps less widely remembered. I bring this up because I can’t in any honesty say that the Lib Dems were deliberately deceitful in their pitch at the last election.
Their ongoing support for this Conservative government is, however, an act of collaboration, which is where the comparison with Petain’s Vichy government comes in.
The Lib Dems hold to the common believe that the electorate always looks unfavourably on any party that forces a general election against the run of play, but that presupposes that the electorate have only isolated areas of debate which divide along party lines – most of the time the electorate can be hoodwinked, or will sleepwalk into the voting booth[ii].
At the last General Election, I met any number of people, young and old, who were apathetic to politics (and therefore, voting) on the basis that ‘they’re all the same so it doesn’t matter’. Cuts in public services, in healthcare provision, in frontline staff are now affecting everyone. Cuts in welfare support are beginning to bite. There are gaps on every high street[iii]. It is disingenuous to suggest that in the sunny, imaginary, uplands of a fifth-term Labour administration we’d all be basking in the glow of full employment and public libraries free at the point of need, all funded off the back of a massive rise in public sector borrowing, but things would undoubtedly be different.
In 1997 we voted en masse for Tony Blair’s New Labour and, I’d argue, a redefinition of Britain. Those of us on the left were perhaps slightly more reticent than the centre in endorsing him, but frankly, it was a choice between Those Bastards and Our Bastard. Whatever bastard form a fifth-term Labour government might have taken – even a minority government or ‘rainbow coalition’ – it could and would not have pandered to the interests of the powerful and wealthy in such an arrogant manner. Some kind of pandering would have been inevitable, because obviously, that always (fucking) happens[iv].
Things would be different too, if the Lib Dems, instead of collaborating with a Conservative party without a mandate to govern, had used their balance of power in a way which actually made it meaningful, by offering a supply arrangement on specific issues, policies and votes. It might even have reinforced their standing amongst the electorate. Still, no use crying over spoilt ballots.
I would like to think that the Lib Dems would, even at this late stage, be able to see reason and find the will to break their collaboration. Political parties are not however given to voting for their own extinction. After the results from Corby and Manchester South, the Lib Dems find themselves basically on a par with UKIP. Which I’m sure is not where Nick-but-dim and Uncle Vince[v] envisaged them being a couple of years ago.
It would also be pleasant to be able to offer a rallying cry to disenfranchised Lib Dems, but the best I can come up with is “Liberals of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your deposits.” And that’s not really going to encourage them much, is it?
[i] ‘Somewhere in the Quisling Clinic there’s a shorthand typist taking seconds over minutes’ – Elvis Costello, ‘Green Shirt’
[ii] The recent figures from the PCC elections might suggest otherwise.
[iii] Mostly estate agents here, so not all bad.
[iv] And, yes, it should change.
[v] On Facebook (yeah, I know), Drummer-God Jack Revy made the eminently valid point that ‘Vince Cable’ sounds like a Porn name. Unlike, for example, ‘Mark Oaten’. Sorry. Bad digression.