Welcome to coalition club

Britain's uneasy entry into coalition politics


Bikram Vohra | May 14, 2010

Nickeee Cleggg, Nickeee Cleggg, what a wonderful, wonderful name (sung to the tune of Nicky Arnstein from My Fair Lady). Forever written into in history for having changed it so dramatically and finally drawn the curtain on democracy’s mother parliament and her affection for bi-partisan sitting arrangements.
They say it is rather like the first kiss, the first olive in the jar or ketchup from a bottle. The first one comes hard but then it just happens. And so, too, so with the introduction of the coalition culture into Britain there will no longer be only two colours but a more fascinating patchwork quilt that could belong to Joseph, Jalil and Jatin and a slew of others.

There would naturally be a certain post poll nostalgia for the old and comfortable ‘them and us’ equation that has marked English politics and even a certain tangible fear of the unknown as an inconclusive result hits the pound and provides little insight into the cobbling factor. It is all so new but the voter can take heart from the fact that he has now the luxury of more options and as the confusion in the beginning settles down, the next generation in Britain will enjoy the power of the hustings as never before

It is not necessarily divisive to function through coalitions and agreements and does, in fact, even create an atmosphere for a far wider representation and that should be seen as the cornerstone of a true democracy. Why stick to only two approaches to governance?

Even as they wrestle with the novelty of it the very fact that power will be passed from one to the other peacefully and with grace and dignity means that democracy is well, alive and flourishing. In that lies the victory for the people.

If one was to take an example, though on a much larger human scale and definitely predicated on a much more profoundly uneven social ladder, then India would be it. With several score parties and splinter groups making the electoral process a citadel of confusion the fact is that governments still run and still manage to deliver. It is not necessarily a fracture of governance to have a coalition and concessions can often be good for the soul and the nation. In the present case if the Lib Dems are being offered proportional representation and the Tories are ready to seek voting reforms perhaps it is an indicator that accommodation will become integral to running the nation and should not be seen as weakness but a strength that more political opinions are voiced in the House. In some way having alliance keeps the ones in power honest as each sum of their parts polices the other.

I believe the next step will be the silent partner concept and even if the doomsdayers are proven right and this first stab at togetherness falls apart within the year Britain is committed to multi-party politics and there is no going back. We will see the formation of other parties, we shall see breakaway groups from the Labour and the Tories and we shall see those who will agree to support the single largest party from the outside while reserving the right not to share in the power. These are all standard manifestations of the new era which in many other systems is now old hat and no cause for any concern.
The one major factor that multiple party democracy eliminates is the sheer boredom of long runs as we have just seen with Labour having held sway for 13 years as the Tories sat out in the cold.

The other logical two sided corollary is that in a raft of plural parties you cannot that easily seek revenge for the past as you could when it was on a one to one basis. Consequently, no time is lost getting even or throwing the baby out with the bathwater purely because…

Are the Americans listening? Indeed they are. Perhaps the new ‘deal’ will cross the Atlantic sooner than we think. After all, it is a kind of hubris  to think that a democracy can only have two points of view.



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