I confess surprise that we now have a coalition government
and am not optimistic that it will see out a full term.
I think that the arrangement is high risk for Nick Clegg.
Whilst the headlines suggest that there are a number of Lib Dem policies which
are being incorporated the danger is the detailed policy will more closely
match Conservative policy; the key offices of state (Chancellor, Home &
Foreign Secretaries) are held by Conservatives. By this time next year there will
have been two budgets and a government spending review which will have locked
the Lib Dem’s into significant spending reductions. The stakes are high, will
the electorate feel that there is no point voting Lib Dem’s, or will this prove
to people that voting Lib Dem gives you a real chance for influence. Perhaps
Clegg can use the power he gains to help his party replace Labour as the
natural centre-left party in opposition to the Conservative centre-right. For
Clegg personally I could be the man who delivered power to the Lib Dems but if
the new government starts to look like a stitch up between a well connected
Tory and an aristocratic Whig that could play badly in the country.
For David Cameron there seem far more upsides. This
coalition might well detoxify the Conservative reputation in the minds of the
electorate, it should enable him to govern in a pragmatic not dogmatic manner
without being at the mercy of right wing ministers. Whilst Lib Dem’s in the
cabinet might cause some friction, the majority vote coupled with collective
responsibility should keep the lid on it. Providing the government avoids
becoming too unpopular in the eyes of the public it will enable him to campaign
on the idea that if this is conservative-lite, next time you might want the
full strength version.
One possible by product is that fewer government initiatives
and laws are passed, meaning that there are fewer changes in public services,
resulting in a welcome measure of stability.
It will be interesting to see how the relationship between
Cameron and Clegg develops. The current approach seems to be the public school
approach, “of course we are members of different houses and fiercely defend it,
but we can work together to bat for the school team”. I remain sceptical, I think the Lib Dems will be eaten by the better organised, better funded, better equipped Conservative party.
But we can pray for their success, may they govern with justice, compassion and responsibility.