The government is...likely to be less influential on the international stage than its predecessors. As a Tory-Liberal alliance could be broken by arguments over the European Union, Britain’s relationship with Brussels will be placed in cryogenic suspended animation with the label, “Do Not Waken Before 2015.” And a Tory-Liberal partnership will need to compromise on Afghanistan. Both want the mission “clarified” and agree that the commitment cannot be indefinite.
I'm going to go through the coalition agreement section by section. I won't summarise all the points, because you can read the whole thing for yourself here, but I'll just note the points I find interesting.
On deficit reduction, the document says both parties are still committed to cuts worth £6bn this year. But it introduces some "wriggle room" that could be used to justify amending this target. It says the £6m figure is "subject to advice from the Treasury and the Bank of England" on the feasibility and advisability of the cuts.
One element that will be curious to watch will be the strategy of Labour, as the party revamps and retools. Will they go the route of the Canadian Liberals and aim to keep a snap election from occurring, in order to give David Cameron and Nick Clegg the pleasure of taking credit for the inevitable public belt-tightening that will have to take place, the swoop in with avengence in 2 or 3 years. Or will they quickly name new leadership and set to work lobbying the leftist bloc of the Liberal Democrats, who may be less than pleased to be in cahoots with the Tories.
If Cameron proves me wrong, good luck to him. I mean that. He has taken on an enormous job, with tremendous capacity to do good. But I do not believe his Party has the values or the understanding of the modern world to make the most of it, and certainly not for the benefit of people who most need an active government on their side. And I don't believe the Liberal Democrats can either. Otherwise they would not have shepherded a right-wing, unchanged Tory Party - that hates Europe, has crazy policies on schools, wanted to help the richest first, wants to bring back hunting and all the other paraphernalia of a backward-looking non progressive force - through the door in the first place.
While Labour implodes - torn between the inclination to become a public sector union lobby group and the determination to maintain the myth of New Labour there will be no effective opposition at all. Even the anti-Tory media camp will be in disarray: the Guardian, after all, backed the LibDems. Surely that means they must support them now that they are in government? Hopefully, the Conservatives will be able to get through at least one Budget and one Public Spending Review before the confused ranks of what the Opposition is going to be, manage to get themselves together.
[T]he changes the Lib Dems negotiated are real.
I’m pleased about that a more moderate Conservative government is a far better outcome than the one were were offered at the start of the General Election campaign. In effect, the voters, the Lib Dems and the presence of an alternative have forced the Conservatives to deliver the great centrist move that Cameron always failed to quite complete.
Yet this is the danger for the Lib Dems...
Britain should avoid proportional representation. Classic parliamentary systems are good at making big changes in a hurry, when the major party knows which changes are needed, and that is Britain's current position. It's no accident that Thatcher and Roger Douglas -- both of whom operated under extreme Westminster systems -- were two of the major reformers in the late 20th century. PR gives too much power to minority parties in the ex post electoral bargain and it works best when there is extreme consensus at the social level, combined with the need to bring certain co-optable minorities into that consensus.
Less than a week after an election that yielded no clear winner, they have resolved the matter. I actually like the result, first and foremost because Labour lost. Say what you will about the Conservatives, but I believe that 13 years is long enough for any party to hold power. The Conservatives may or may not deserve to win, but any party in power for 13 years probably deserves to lose.
The Lib Dems are left with prestigious-sounding non-jobs like Scotland Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister. To adapt Boris Johnson’s metaphor, we have been served up a sausage government and it is never edifying to see how sausages are made. But the meat in this sausage is most certainly Conservative. The Lib Dems are the gristle.
The irony is that center-left political reform types like me suddenly have a stake in the success of a, yes, Conservative government. An unfamiliar sensation, but not a wholly unpleasant one.
(Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty.)