The Coalition Cracks

An oddity in British politics, the Tory-Lib Dem union’s honeymoon will not last long

Opinion | John Hodgshon | June 2010

So, the election’s over. We’ve got a government. But, still, no one is really sure what’s going to happen. Or what it means.

This election was an unusual one, to say the least. Normally its straight forward. In the U.K. Conservatives or Labour win a majority, big smiles the next day in front of Number Ten, "Looking forward to serving my country, etc, etc", and then it’s business as usual.

Not this time.

In the days after the election, with no clear winner, everyone, the media, the general public and the politicians were milling around and spouting various opinions on what could happen. The Conservatives, lead by David Cameron, had a majority, but not enough to form a government. Labour had lost many votes, but were still the second biggest party, whilst the Liberal-Democrats had not won as many votes as they hoped. No party, in fact, was able to form a government on its own and there was talk of all sorts of deals being made. The 24-hour news channels were filled with endless pontificating about the maneuverings between parties and were forced to run laughable Breaking News headlines like "Clegg and Brown won’t attend meeting in Foreign Office".

Similarly, many people, whilst not indifferent, were at least nonplussed by the result. Most people wanted to see Gordon Brown out, but weren’t sure what sort of government they wanted to see replacing him.

So followed several days of political poker, with endless Sky News images of William Hague getting out of his car, Nick Clegg walking down the street, Gordon Brown entering Labour HQ, and so on…. Oh, and top spin doctor Alastair Campbell got into a heated debate with Sky News Reporter Adam Boulton, which almost turned into a fistfight. This was great, as nothing pleases the great British public more than seeing grown men behaving like schoolboys.

And then, Monday came round and the Labour party’s leader Gordon Brown resigned. And the Press who had hounded and hated him for months, were suddenly writing gushing eulogies for him. It all seemed very bizarre. One newspaper, the Daily Mail, who had only days before accused Gordon Brown of a "coup attempt" when he failed to immediately step down, now wrote a piece on "The paradoxical Premier: A man of massive talents, huge contradictions and tragic flaws." But, that’s the Press for you.

And then, just like that, on Tuesday May the 11th, the deal was done and Britain had its first coalition government since World War II. A Conservative/Liberal-Democrat coalition, something many people didn’t think was possible, is now in power.

At the moment, the talk is all of "national unity" and "working together to combat the crisis".

The Lib-Dems demand for electoral reform, a prerequisite for any deal with Labour or Conservative, seems to have been accepted by the Conservatives, albeit in a watered-down form. Previously, the Lib-Dems demanded that the current "First past the Post" system be replaced with proportional representation.

This would have created more "European style" coalition governments and, because they are the third biggest party in the U.K, given the Lib-Dems more opportunity to get into government. In the agreement between the two parties this has been changed to a planned referendum on an alternative vote system, where voters can rank candidates in order of preference on the ballot paper.

The first press conference of the two party leaders, David Cameron and Nick Clegg, was all smiles and jokes, with the key-word being "stability" and " reassuring the financial markets."

Herein lies what many commentators are worried about. Compared to other countries, where deals between parties to form coalitions can drag on for weeks, the deal between the Conservatives and Lib-Dems was signed and sealed in less than a week; the talk was of creating a stable government to reassure the financial markets and prove that the government could deliver on promises to reign in the deficit.

Many think this was too fast, that it was rushed into too quickly, and could come back to haunt the new government when they hit a policy area on which they greatly differ. Marry in hast, repent in leisure.

Other articles from this issue