The trouble with coalitions is……
……..they can hardly ever tread a straight path.
In some other European countries such as Belgium and Italy, where the electoral system is forever throwing together pacts and coalitions between parties, they are used to seeing compromises, here in the UK we are more likely to call them “U-turns”. Whether its on deficit reduction, higher education, NHS reform, defence, or justice the ConLib coalition is constantly in flux with policy being driven more by the need to keep the coalition together than what might be seen as the necessities of good government.
In many respects this was to have been expected when David Cameron’s Conservatives and Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats drew up their agreement last year after we failed to make a clear decisive choice at the general election, but by far the biggest flaw at the outset was the agreement manipulated by David Cameron to engineer a five year fixed Parliament. With this new restriction in place Cameron probably felt that he had a chance of carrying through most, but not all, of his party’s programme, with a few adjustments along the way. However, it is inevitable that tensions will arise within government and within the two parties making up the administration, and as one policy after another appears to the press and Opposition as being ill judged or poorly formulated detractors can (almost justifiably) point to yet another U-turn or abandonment of important party principle. During previous periods when we have had either a minority government or a government getting by with a small majority the most important opposition has come from within the ranks of the governing party keeping the executive on its toes, this is not quite so easy to achieve when two parties are involved. The other important position to note was that a major defeat for such a government in The House of Commons might lead to a new general election as the Prime Minister attempts to secure a good working majority.
David Cameron, unfortunately decided to tie his own hands behind his back with the fixed term Parliament and it would take an enormous effort from MPs to force him back to the polls, it has also tied Nick Clegg into a very tight arrangement which so far has resulted in his party becoming the whipping boys for the coalition, some say Cameron has played a blinder! I don’t, and I see this coalition arrangement leading to weakened policy as some on the right wing of the Tories become more vociferous, and more on the left wing of the Liberal Democrats become more rebellious, “fudge” will become the flavour of the month! I would have been far happier with a much more fluid and loose voting arrangement between the parties, without Lib-Dem ministers, that would enable a Cameron government to start out along its path, with the possibility of a sooner rather than later general election to try and cement his position.
The risk of a government falling can actually strengthen its hand with its own backbenchers and fortify its survival measures. There is nothing quite like the threat of losing one’s seat to exercise the minds of those recalcitrant MPs in marginal seats (of all parties), as they huff and puff to try and blow the government off course!
The five year fixed Parliament is a classic illustration of fixing something which was not broken at the outset.