Sunday, April 24, 2011

Coalition with the Devil

I'm really starting to really appreciate the Coalition.

Not especially for what it's doing. (Although I'm not knocking the pupil premium, the higher income tax threshold, higher Capital Gains Tax, the restoration of the earnings link for pensions, and the Great Repeal Bill)

More for what it's not doing.

A minority Conservatives government would have been able to win Commons votes thanks to the sizable authoritarian cohorts within the Labour ranks. Whatever the 2010 Conservative manifesto might have said, who knows what right-wing initiatives would have sprung up by now? A renaissance for ID cards, PFI and the DE Act? New and worse kinds of imprisonment without trial and control orders? Upfront university tuition fees? The enfeebling of local government? Another illegal war? Secret support for torture?

Of course Labour could have chosen to play silly politics by opposing all Tory bills on principle, good or bad. But if one believes (as I do) that this particular Labour tendency is motivated more by honest conviction rather than by low politics, it's quite likely that such initiatives, originated under a Labour government, would by now be becoming embedded under a minority Tory government.

Instead, the Coalition is constantly forcing the Conservatives to negotiate formally with the Liberal Democrats rather than making deals with the Labour authoritarian tendency.

This is such a good thing.

Of course this liberal moderating influence of the Liberal Democrats is making the Conservative Party a better party than it would otherwise be. That's good for the country. Not so good for the electoral prospects of the Lib Dems in 2015. And not as good for Labour in 2015 as it could otherwise be. No wonder Coalition upsets the tribalists.

But what are the limits of this? Should, for example, the Social Democrat Party of Germany have joined a Coalition with Hitler in the 1930s, to act as a "moderating influence"? No, obviously not.

So there are bound to be circumstances in which a shared programme for Government, mutual trust and effective inter-party communication are impossible to develop. Labour wasn't ready for Coalition in 2010, for instance. But provided the conditions are propitious, Coalitions can help minimise the chances of parties energetically pursuing sudden and under-considered brainwaves.

Coalition with the Devil? No. But Coalition with Occasionally Redeemable Sinners - that'll do me.

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