David Cameron Is Britain's new prime minister, and the Tories will govern in a "full and proper coalition government"
with the Lib Dems. It will be interesting to see what "full and proper"
means when it comes to collective cabinet responsibility and other nice
points of the British constitution. Also, apart from some seats in the
cabinet (to include Vince Cable as chief secretary to the treasury,
apparently: if so, good choice), what has Cameron promised Clegg and
the Lib Dems on electoral reform? A referendum, presumably. But which
option would any such referendum put to the voters? I wonder if vows
have been exchanged on that.
Meanwhile, in any event, this will be an unnatural alliance. One Liberal Democrat of my acquaintance tells me that it may split the party. Few Lib Dems have been waiting in the wilderness all these years to serve as junior partners in a Tory-led coalition. As I mentioned before, many of the party's policies are to the left of Labour's. The message that Brown and Mandelson have been broadcasting in the past day or two about a progressive alliance was disingenuous, no doubt, but not wrong. Labour and the Lib Dems are much closer than Tories and Lib Dems.
A short and turbulent marriage, terminating in an early election, is a distinct possibility--and might not be the worst thing, from Cameron's point of view. Depending on the circumstances, the Tories could hope for re-election with a working majority: "This time, give us a chance to do the job." A brief and bitter experience of coalition government as the fiscal roof falls in could silence demands for proportional representation for the next 20 years.
By the way, I thought the FT's leader on Gordon Brown's resignation as Labour leader a little mean.
Gordon Brown's announcement that he will resign as Labour party leader has been cast as an act of selfless statesmanship. The timing, however, suggests otherwise. Coming just as negotiations between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats reached a delicate stage, Mr Brown's move seemed calculated to cause maximum disruption and open the way to a Labour-Lib Dem power-sharing deal.
Well, it was surely both calculated to disrupt the enemy and selfless. No contradiction there. I was surprised and impressed that Brown did not have to be stretchered out of Number 10 under heavy sedation--that he was willing to sacrifice what was left of his career, his reputation beyond redemption, to keep Labour in power. I had thought him less principled than that.
An interesting question is whether a Lib-Lab pact might have been put together if only Brown had declared his intention to resign immediately last Friday. Once the Tories did so well in the popular vote, and the Lib Dems so poorly (relative to expectations) it was always going to be difficult for Clegg to get behind Brown as PM. The electorate would have been disgusted. But this "coalition of losers" issue would have been very much attenuated if Brown had put himself out of the picture at once. And, as I say, a Lib-Lab policy program is easy to draw up. Perhaps, privately, he told Clegg he would go. But if he was negotiating over the weekend to keep himself in office, that would have subtracted a lot from the deal, and made Clegg more receptive to Tory overtures.
Then again, a Lib-Lab alliance would still have been short of votes. And another awkward issue would have come swiftly to the fore: the gross over-representation at Westminster of an implacably Labour-supporting Scotland. In case you'd forgotten, Scotland has its own parliament, as well as having a big say in who rules down south. One of the wonderful ironies of British politics is that the Tories, who have the biggest interest in paring Scotland's power in Westminster, are the ones most dedicated to the union. Expect this issue to assume large importance in the coming era of unstable coalition government.
Meanwhile, might have beens don't count. A Lib-Con "coalition" it is--details to come. Just what the country needs as it contemplates a public-debt crisis and embarks on a draconian program of fiscal restraint.
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