Last week the British public did something extraordinary. With millions of different views and motivations, we managed to vote in such a way as to deliver a hung parliament, driving the first wedge in the door of a system that has for too long kept most politicians far removed from democratic accountability.
I admit that my excitement of last week has been dampened by my fears over a Tory-led government. While the Conservative Party contains honourable and compassionate individuals, the main focus of the party throughout its history has been to defend the interests of the rich. The Conservative Party has opposed virtually every progressive measure ever introduced, from Old Age Pensions to Lords reform, from the National Health Service to the Minimum Wage.
While details of the deal are still emerging, it seems that the coalition's economic agenda is very similar to the Tories' original plans. The emergency budget and £6 billion of cuts will go ahead. Clegg has also agreed to Trident renewal and to a cap on immigration.
While I'm frustrated that the Liberal Democrats should have gone along with this, I'm also disturbed by the behaviour of the Labour Party over the last two days. Various Labour figures have leapt up to say that it's is better for the Labour Party to go into opposition to “renew” itself, rather than to form a potentially unpopular government. They seem more concerned with “renewing” their party than they do with what the Tories may inflict on the country.
The very last thing we should do in the face of this situation is to shrug our shoulders and carry on as if we can do nothing about it.
In the last few weeks alone, grassroots initiatives such as Power 2010, and now Take Back Parliament (www.takebackparliament.com/hope ), have fired up a genuinely wide range of people who seem far more able to work together than is sadly the case in some progressive alliances. This is inspiring evidence of what we can do from the grassroots.
Of course, the steps towards electoral reform offered by Cameron are woefully inadequate. Alternative Vote, while preferable to First-Past-the-Post, is not a proportional system. Come the referendum, Tory MPs will be free to campaign against it, and most of them will. It is only too easy to imagine the scurrilous scaremongering to which the Tory press will resort as they seek to persuade voters of the horrors of Alternative Vote.
And yet, this will be the first time that the British public have been able to vote on a change to the electoral system. The referendum bill will have to go through Parliament, meaning we must lobby hard over the detail as well as during the referendum campaign itself. Nor must we forget what may be the Tories' most meaningful concession – fixed-term parliaments. We must seize these opportunities with both hands.
What we must not do is sit back and gradually give up on the hopes that have flared up in recent weeks. We cannot simply carry on as before. We cannot keep calm in the face of a blatantly unfair political system, nor the viciously unjust economic system with which it has become so closely associated. We cannot ignore the public opinion that is far more radical than all three big parties on Trident and Afghanistan. We cannot stand back and lose the momentum for reform that has built up so rapidly. We must never think that we cannot achieve change – nor ever conclude that we have achieved enough.
Let's be determined. Let's be focused. Let's be organised and effective. But let's not be calm.