May 22, 2010
‘David & Nick’, prime minister and deputy prime minister leading a five year coalition. No political commentator seems to have predicted this. I don’t intend to go over events that have already been covered by thousands of words – just a few reflections.
• Five days to agree the principles of a coalition deal, the first of its kind since World War II. Germany, the Netherlands and other countries take weeks, and even months, before the coalition government can take office.
• The agreement was less than 3 000 words, compared with the hundreds of pages of German agreements and the tens of pages of Dutch agreements.
• The coalition government programme, under 30 pages, was agreed some nine days after the government took office.
• David Cameron refers to a Liberal-Conservative coalition. Why not use the natural order? Generosity? A long-term aim to fuse the mainstream Conservative ‘left’ with the mainstream Liberal Democratic ‘right’?
• Fixed five year parliamentary terms, unless 55% of all MPs vote for dissolution, is a sensible, constructive reform.
• Electoral reform, including provision for the introduction of the Alternative Vote (AV), to be put to the people in a referendum, as well as for the creation of fewer and more equal sized constituencies, is long overdue. There is no guarantee a33s to the result, but my hunch is that the AV system will be introduced.
• EU lobbyists will follow with interest the statutory registration system which is to be set up.
• There are many policy differences between the parties, which the media will no doubt focus on and exaggerate. However, the two parties will concentrate on the similarities. The five-year term forces them to swim or sink together.
• The most noticeable external change will be in the government’s European policy. It will be tough and guided by self-interest, as with the other Member States, but the tone is positive. Cameron will not talk the Eurosceptic language much of his party loves to hear. The Europe Minister is not the expected Eurosceptic. The Prime Minister has already successfully visited Paris and Berlin. Will the Conservatives within the next five years rejoin the PPE/Christian Democrats in the European Parliament?
• The first Muslim in the cabinet is to be welcomed, particularly as she is a woman.
• Sadly, there are very few women sitting round the cabinet table.
• Nick Clegg sitting opposite and not next to David Cameron elevates him.
• The electorate has got what it clearly wanted and what the country needs. This is a young, vigorous, optimistic, non-dogmatic leadership, moderate and centrist enough to gain the support of the people, which is essential if the budget is to be brought back under control.
• Is this the end of ‘yah-boo’ politics? Will the character of Prime Minister’s question time change? How will Labour react to consensus politics? The new Opposition leader, likely to be David Miliband (aged 44), will be forced to modify traditional Opposition strategy and not criticize everything the government does. Consensus politics is likely to spread.
• Gordon Brown is to be admired for his dignified and generous exit: British politics at its best.
• Harold Wilson famously said that a week is a long time in politics. These remarkable events took place in even less than one week.