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What a difference a year makes – or not?

Destiny has two ways of crushing us –
by refusing our wishes and by fulfilling them.

This time a year ago, the British voting public decided that they had had enough of two party politics and put enough little crosses on enough little pieces of paper to produce the almost unthinkable – a government that included the Liberal Democrats.

At the time, Nick Clegg seemed to hold all the aces, the balance of power was in his hot little hands and, had he chosen to jump the other way, we might have had a very different type of coalition.

Nick Clegg. The human embodiment of the phrase: ‘be careful what you wish for’.

He’s making a speech in Parliament today to mark – not celebrate – the anniversary in which he says that the coalition was absolutely the right thing to do, but that that the Lib Dems are going to be more ‘muscular’ and ‘visible’ going into this second year of coalition. However, it occurs to me that he might be wondering what could have been had he made a different decision 12 months ago.

The trashing that the party took at the local elections was only to be expected. It happens every time: an electorate that is pissed off at decisions being made in Parliament takes it out in the only way they can – at their local ballot box. 15 or so years ago, the borough of Royal Tunbridge Wells made the front page of the Daily Telegraph when voters were so hacked off at John Major’s Tory Government that they Conservatives lost control of the council for the first time ever.

Had things been different, had we had a full Tory majority in Parliament a year ago, I suspect that the Lib Dems would have been the net gainers from last week’s elections instead of emerging battered and bruised. Those who thought that things would be different this time around because we have two parties in government feel that they’ve been duped and let down.

So you might have thought that the chance to vote for a new way of getting our politicians into power would have been right up the nation’s street. But the 40% or so of the population that bothered to vote for and against AV (or proportional representation as it was called on my politics course) decided that the status quo was, after all the way to go.

So Nick Clegg got his referendum and he got his answer. Maybe because the Yes campaign didn’t do its promotion properly, maybe because the issue is so complicated that it by-passed most of us. Whatever the reason, what we had is now what we have and we have to make the best of it.

Anyway, the best description I could find of AV comes from this clip here from the TV series Auf Wiedersen Pet. Six minutes in – watch and enjoy.

With AV, you get yellow. Nothing wrong with it, but it’s just…. yellow. (you need to see the clip to know what I’m on about there by the way!);

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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