Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Will the public ever accept coalitions?

Over the last couple of years I have had a few comments from my non-political friends (yes I have some!) along the lines of the Lib Dems cannot be trusted. When people who are usually not really that into politics say things like that it makes my ears prick up because it demonstrates that something about the subject has "cut through". Unfortunately in this case it is something pretty negative about the party of which I am a member.

It should probably not be surprising that that message has resounded in this way, after all much of the media and the entirety of the Labour Party (and mischievous elements of the Tory Party) have been saying as much ever since the Lib Dems entered government. And of course there is a kernel of truth in it. The party said one thing before the general election and then in a number of key areas did something different after the election.

But the third party was never going to be able to do anything except that if they were to go into government. They were never going to get a majority and therefore they were always going to have to compromise in all sorts of areas.

That the Lib Dems have "broken their promises" and "Clegg cannot be trusted" has become as much of the background mood music of the body politic of this country as "Blair lied about Iraq" or "Thatcher did not care much about society" were during their respective eras. As much as I might want to bang on on here about how the party had to compromise, I might as well be micturating into a tornado.

But this fact really does raise a much wider issue. Will the public ever accept coalitions? Because it is far from clear that what they are annoyed about is that Clegg et al made "the wrong compromises". It actually seems like the fact that any compromises were made at all is what has damaged the party (and that would likely have been true no matter what the compromises and who the political partner was). This would apply to any parties forming a coalition in the future.

Perhaps we have just had single party government in this country for so long that, despite the talk before the election about the public wanting politicians to "get along" the truth is that they are so used to one entire programme being enacted that when the electoral arithmetic requires parties to work together the damage caused, especially to the junior partner is just simply too great.

I wish I was wrong about this but I fear I am right. Maybe the last two years shows that the UK is simply not interested in parties compromising? And if the polls are correct we might well end up with at least another decade of single party government again after 2015.

I suspect the electorate might prefer to be back on the surer ground such a government would afford.


Jim said...

Its the fundamental flaw in coalition government. Parties campaign on their manifestos, then after the election, and nobody has won (which of course is almost guaranteed under PR) they all go off into closed rooms and do deals behind the voters backs. Everybody is p*ssed off because no-one gets what they voted for. It may be all very grown up and Mittel European, but we in the UK actually have the strange idea that politicians should do in government what they promised before the election, not do grubby deals to get into government.

I'm glad this has happened the way it has, because it has shown the UK public what coalition governance is like, and they don't like what they see. The LDs have finally got what they wanted for decades, the balance of power, and the result will be their demise, because everyone will see the futility of voting for the 3rd party, when there is a good chance something you particularly liked about their manifesto gets horse traded away in the rush for power.

Anonymous said...

But Jim, this happens in single party governments too - as big single party governments are 'coalitions' too. Parties regularly find they can't (or don't want to) enact their manifestos.

I suspect that people would say they didn't like compromises, and that they do think single party governments don't compromise.

But they are wrong.

Anonymous said...

The difference is that within parties, the compromise usually happens before the election behind closed doors, so the public aren't aware of it: they get presented with the end result and asked to judge it at the election. So by the time of the election, the party is speaking with a unified voice (and if it's not, or if after the election the compromise breaks down and splits become evident, the voters punish them).

The attitude is 'sort out what your programme is, then present it to me and then I'll tell you whether or not I like it'. People get upset if they vote for people who only after they have been elected decide what their programme is. They feel it's the wrong way around.

For a system which produces lots of coalitions in which the junior partner is trashed, just look at the trail of unelectable husks of smaller parties left in the wake of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.

PaulB said...

I don't think this is just an issue with post-election compromises. The problem is that there are many left-leaning voters who were encouraged by LD candidates to vote for them as not-Tories. Those voters feel betrayed.