Realism and disappointment

On the art of non-conformity facebook page a few days ago: ‘Every time someone tells you to “be realistic” they are asking you to compromise your ideals.’

The election results for the Liberal Democrats were as ‘disappointing’ as Nick Clegg described them as, after all the speculation the election landscape remains a two horse race with the electorate declining to signal decisively in favour of electoral reform.

Why did the Lib Dems fail to translate breakthrough in the opinion polls into breakthrough in the real poll? I think their campaign ran out of steam after the second week. Putting on my amateur psychologist hat, the reason for that, I think, was because Clegg was determined to remain ‘realistic’ in expectations – prompted partly, I suspect, by fear of having the equivalent of David Steel’s ‘Go back to your constituencies and prepare for government’ clip following him around for the rest of his life. But this time was different and he should have grasped the nettle, particularly after the second debate, and concentrated on what he and the LibDems would want to do, in terms of policy and action, not simply repeating the (negative) formula ‘we’re not the other two’.

The difficulty is to know when a bit of realism might be a good idea – and when not.

Incidentally, my take on Tony Blair and the Iraq war – history had a similar role to play: the fear of repeating Chamberlain’s ‘here is the paper’ mistake (combined with the desire to emulate Thatcher and the Falklands). Hopefully the fear of repeating Blair’s mistake (combined with lack of funds) may rein in enthusiasm for new foreign adventures for a while.

Congratulations, incidentally, to Harvey Taylor for a consistently positive contribution to the election, as an Independent candidate in Bournemouth West.

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