Alex Massie

The Worst Coalition in Recent British History?

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It makes sense for the Conservatives to argue that a hung parliament doesn't do the country many favours. It's in their interest to make this case and, certainly, there's something to be said for the Conservatives winning a clear and comfortable majority. That would be preferable to a narrow Tory victory, not least since the government would not be held to ransom by a handful of recalcitrant backbenchers.

But, as matters stand right now, a comfortable majority looks unlikely. The Tory argument is that a hung parliament is bad because:

  1. An increase in "behind closed door politics" where politicians make deals among themselves;
  2. Indecisive and weak government where parties worried about a second election duck difficult choices;
  3. A paralysed economy that will be bad for sterling and growth;
  4. Another election later this year; because hung parliaments usually collapse in recriminations.

All true! Of course, to some extent, 1,2 and 3 have also been true these past half dozen years anyway. On a good number of Big Questions Britain has enjoyed or endured a kind of coalition government for some time. That is, we've been governed by an uneasy, often fractious, "partnership" of Blairites and Brownites locked together in an awkward alliance that has often been at war with itself and, just as frequently, working at cross-purposes.

Blair's refusal to remove Brown from the Treasury demonstrated how much he had surrendered to his junior coalition partner; Brown's ceaseless plotting against Blair showed how little confidence the junior faction had in the government's leadership.

You can certainly argue that Labour was very active  - and has some genuine achievements to its credit - but it's also surely true that in some areas and on some questions (public sector reform being one of the most obvious) a formal coalition between two wholly seperate parties might have achieved more than a divided Labour party.

In other words, there is more than one kind of coalition and, from 2001-2007 at least, the one governing Britain was more dysfunctional than anything that might be produced by this election.The Blair-Brown coalition was stable in electoral and parliamentary terms but that's not the same thing as producing good government.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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