Thursday, May 13, 2010

A quiet revolution

The events of the last week have potentially revolutionised the nature of government in the UK. Things could have been very different. Gordon Brown could have held on until he was defeated with a no-confidence vote. David Cameron could have simply tried to form a minority government, or disregarded the Lib Dems. Both had the sense to realise that they simply didn't have enough popular support for this option to be the way forward. So Brown resigned (once it was clear there was a way forward) and Cameron negotiated hard to co-operate with Clegg - and the Liberal Democrats were prepared to co-operate. None of these were givens; all were necessary for the well-being of the nation; and it is a matter of satisfaction that all happened.

We now have a government which is representative of the votes of a clear majority of the electorate, and one which has a plan of work and a basis for carrying it out.

Certainly, there are some people within the Liberal party who are not happy about the thought of working with the Conservatives. However, the nature of government that the Lib Dem party has been pushing for since they have sought proportional representation was bound to be collaborative, rather than confrontational. Government versus opposition has been shown for decades not to be good for a country - you can't keep pushing in the same direction without ending up somewhere too far from where everybody wants you to be. Perhaps, if the parties can get over their partisanship at least at a governmental level, the ideal would be a government formed with the agreement of all parties, but with the make-up dictated ultimately by the majority party, who also has the prime minister. But that's a way ahead.

Why only potentially revolutionary, though? How might it not work?

The coalition might not hold together. If three, or 15, or 37 months down the line, the coalition between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats breaks down in acrimony, then one or other party - most likely the Lib Dems - is likely to be regarded as having broken the government. The electorate would punish that party in the polls, and there would be an abrupt return to the old system.

The Liberals might lose their identity. This seems unlikely at the moment, and should be unlikely given the structure of the coalition - they have the independence to vote according to their party sensibilities, as long as it isn't a no-confidence vote. So there is no reason that they should simply end up being regarded as a wing of the Conservative party.

The opposition to the setup at grassroots Liberal and Conservative party level could make it untenable for the coalition to continue to work together. This would be a shame, and shortsighted of the grassroots, I think. Membership of the Lib Dems has increased in the last few days, apparently, according to a voice on Twitter - now it is possible to be a Liberal and have a voice in government - it is no longer necessary to align yourself with Labour or Conservative if you want to influence government. The new regime should strengthen the "third way" in British politics. The harrumphs from the people who simply want to be part of a club which will never have enough members to have any influence will be outweighed by the cheers from the people who never particularly wanted to choose between red and blue but couldn't see that there was an alternative.

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