If truth be told, we do know how to do coalition governments in the British body politic. We have done since time immemorial. It’s just that they’re called political parties – and the shoehorning generally takes place before an election; a process which usually allows most of us to understand what we’re getting.
At least while the new PM is still finding his or her feet.
All three major British parties play the same game. Like teaching of old, a leader gets elected to the post and then looks for some lowly common denominator – some common theme – which might attract both activists and voters without tying his or her hands too greatly. Unless, of course, the leader is as politically adept as someone like Margaret Thatcher. In which case the hands that are tied belong to the activists and voters.
We then find the successful leaders getting their parties elected and proceeding to uncover and reveal all their true colours. Disenchantment eventually sets in, as it must, and, after a period of rehabilitation, most leaders will become some kind of national monument, safely tucked away on boards of directors of large- and medium-sized companies – or, perhaps more controversially, at least these days – in the House of Lords.
In the latter place, of course, they may choose to wreak the kind of political vengeance on the current occupants of Number 10 Downing Street which they would never have cared to put up with whilst still in power.
As a by-the-by, isn’t it interesting how an ancient democracy such as ours requires so many unelected members to defend it from the tyranny of Coalition politics? The strangest thing, indeed. The strangest thing. It does make me wonder what is happening to our politics.
So it is that I come to the event which provokes me to write today’s post. Recently, the Lib Dems – one of the political parties most adept at forging both internal and external coalitions – have been tussling with the idea that Labour’s Blairites should find their natural home in the party of the junior partner of our current Coalition government:
There have been some high profile (if not high level) Blairite defections to the Tories. While there are some similarities between the Blair legacy and our coalition partners, the defectees seem to have overlooked or discarded one idea – joining the Liberal Democrats.
And in conclusion:
The party has people on the left, people on the right and people who subscribe to the third way anyway. The difference is that all of those people have a voice and it is of equal weight. Yes, David Cameron is the most centrist Tory leader there has been for a while. But what about after he goes? What if the party – dissatisfied with his abandonment of the right – go for a right winger? Would Blairites be joining the Tories if Liam Fox or David Davis had won the leadership contest? I doubt it.
Powell in his book, when offering advice in a Discourses style, would often begin the sentence with the phrase ‘A prudent prime minister would…’
A prudent Blairite would join the Liberal Democrats.
It is therefore doubly appropriate that just as this appeal is made to Labour Blairites to join the Lib Dems, members of the latter should be creating a Lib Dem space – perhaps, even, one day a party within a party on the lines of Labour’s Progress – with the avowed aim of building bridges with those of us who consider ourselves to be on the left and centre-left of British politics. This nascent website provides us with these interesting paragraphs:
[...] Liberals have long argued against concentrations of power and resources, whether in the hands of the state or of private institutions. Social Democrats have long argued that inequality in wealth, income and esteem undermine social cohesion. The financial crisis is the result of decades of neo-liberal ideology and politics which has ignored these lessons. Instead public policy has allowed financial markets to consolidate power in the hands of unaccountable institutions, has disempowered communities, undermined local economies and has redistributed income and wealth from the bottom to the top. The crisis has also allowed a rebirth of social conservatism as those on the right try to blame the nation’s ills on the poor, the public sector, and a decline of family values.
People understand this. The popularity of progressive single issue campaigns shows a genuine appetite for progressive politics. We believe that Liberal Democrats should be part of this politics, not its target. This is a time for Liberals and Social Democrats to work together for a fairer and more democratic Britain in which people and communities are empowered to build a sustainable future and in which disparities of income, wealth and power are reduced. We must also work together to promote our shared approach to public services and attitudes towards social justice. We believe the state has a clear responsibility to enable people to make the most of their own lives, in contrast to the coalition’s mission to slash the role of the both local and national government dramatically.
To conclude, most usefully in my opinion, thus:
If there is to be any future for the liberal left in British politics, we believe that there must be overt and public dialogue between Liberal Democrats, Labour, Greens and others on the democratic left. There is a centre-left majority in the UK but it all too often fails to be expressed because of parties not being clear in advance of an election about who their preferred coalition partners would be. Many of the political problems faced by the current coalition flow from it being a government which most Liberal Democrat voters did not want. It is ideologically unsustainable and without a mandate.
A future coalition with Labour and others on the liberal left is more likely to secure Liberal Democrat goals than a further coalition with the Conservatives and we should actively work to make that possible. If that is ever to happen, future centre-left co-operation must not founder on personal hostilities, and policy differences/similarities must be fully understood. If coalitions are to become more common, then voters cannot be left in the dark over what parties are likely to do (or not do) from their manifestos if they co-operate. The public deserves to be given a clear idea of what co-operation between Liberal Democrats, Labour the Greens and others would mean in terms of public policy if they are to be expected to trust such a government.
So let us not damn the right of the British body politic to continue making coalitions in much the same way as the entire proud history of its national parties has indicated is perfectly possible – for we have far more experience in the matter than some of our leaders ever care to admit to.
Whether we continue to do so within our parties, amongst our parties or both is, of course, a question of political expediency – and knowing when that moment needs to be chosen. But the arguments given above deserve, at the very least, to be taken into consideration – if nothing more than because the socioeconomic interests of the nation states which currently make up the United Kingdom are at stake.
Something which only hubris would lead us to ignore.