Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

From Clegg to Stronach, it's about power

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Politics is about power. The serious politician who protests that he or she is not power hungry is either a liar or a fool or both.

Proof of this is the recent coalition formed by the Conservative and Liberal Democratic parties in the new government of Britain. The Conservatives are the rightist party while the Liberal Democrats were considered to be an amalgam of left-wing Liberals and moderate socialists. On the face of it, this seems an unlikely union.

During the election campaign, the most egregious insults were exchanged between David Cameron of the Tories and Nick Clegg of the Lib-Dems. But the prospect of power breaks down many barriers.

It did not take long for Cameron and Clegg to climb into bed and before you could say "hold on to your principles" a not-so-holy alliance was consummated. The prospect of forming a government was too tempting to resist.

In politics, power talks and decides. This is not to be disparaged. The serious politicians, despite popular rhetoric to the contrary, go into politics because they believe that they can do some good. They enter public life to make things better or, in the alternative, to prevent others from making things worse. They can only achieve this by being successful, ultimately in government. If to form a government it is necessary to make some compromises, then so be it.

Cameron will certainly not be able to govern by implementing conservative ideology, which might have prevailed if he formed a majority. The Liberal Democrats will have to hold their noses when they endorse policies which they object to are adopted, or remain silent. But in their view, the compromises will be worth it because they will be in a power-sharing arrangement that could yield some results.

The fact that the right-wing/left-wing coalition came about so quickly says much about politics in Great Britain and the western world generally. The divisions are not what they once were.

Cameron's conservatives are not the conservatives of Margaret Thatcher. One cannot imagine Thatcher forming a coalition with those who she would have regarded as socialists. The fact that Clegg could just as readily have joined with Labour also shows that the Labour Party, as reconstituted by Tony Blair, is not the same party that was led by Harold Wilson or Michael Foot.

Consensus politics is now much more the vogue. Today, the pursuit of power for power itself, without reference to realizing the goals for which power was sought, risks becoming a characteristic of our generation.

There are many examples of how power became the overriding factor when the chips were down.

In the l969 Manitoba provincial election, the results showed that the New Democrats under Ed Schreyer won 28 seats, one short of forming a government. Steps were taken to lure Liberal Laurent Desjardins,.

Desjardins was the most outspoken anti-socialist in the Liberal party and some NDP MLAs were not even on speaking terms with him. All was forgotten when Desjardins, who incidentally coined the name Liberal Democrat to describe himself, joined the caucus, where he was warmly received despite past animosities. The controlling factor was power.

In the l972 federal election, Pierre Trudeau's Liberals won l09 seats to 107 for Robert Stanfield's Conservatives and needed the support of the NDP to stay in power. David Lewis of the NDP, in exchange for an NDP shopping list, agreed to support the Liberals without entering into a coalition. Trudeau yielded to stay in power.

When Paul Martin needed one vote to defeat an opposition vote of confidence, he seduced Belinda Stronach, elected as a Tory, by giving her a cabinet post.

The most striking example as to how power is able to influence political thinking is more recent and bizarre.

In Canada, the Liberals, the NDP and the separatist Bloc agreed to a formal coalition and requested the Governor General call upon them to form a government in order to obtain power solely because they did not want to lose government subsidies.

The Liberals wanted to keep $8 million a year, the separatists, $2.5 million and the NDP, $5 million a year. It goes to prove that money also talks.

Sidney Green is a Winnipeg lawyer and former NDP cabinet minister.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 15, 2010 A17

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