Sure, it is the easiest thing in the world to predict the break-up of a relationship from the day it begins but what is really disappointing is that no decent writer – or politician, for that matter – has even attempted to look at the positive features of two (or more) parties working together.
Such is the negative tripe that has been splashed across news pages and broadcasts over the last five years that nobody is talking about the good that has been achieved and how it might be in the UK’s interests to repeat the exercise. Instead, there is talk of the Liberal Democrats being a dead party because they shared power with the Tories, as if the only alternative this time around would be to give the other guys a chance; you know, the only main party that didn’t get into government last time. It’s only fair, no?
You could kind of understand the media’s nonsense put out about the coalition but the real shame is that the Tories and the Lib Dems are now (inevitably, really) obliged to put out messages promoting their respective parties – nobody but nobody is putting out messages promoting coalition government.
But, without going into every policy detail, let us consider what a coalition has done for the UK. Few would argue that the Lib Dems have tempered what would have been a far more radical Conservative agenda. And few could argue that many of the policies and law changes that people like are, in fact, Lib Dem ideas that the Tories have been persuaded to go along with.
I’m still half way through reading ‘In It Together: The Inside Story of the Coalition Government’ by Matthew d’Ancona, but I would recommend it to anyone who would like to know how two parties work together in practice. I know the author is a journalist but I would suggest there is far more truth in this book than you would ever read in a newspaper.
In 2010 I was quite excited about the idea of seeing two parties in coalition – I hadn’t witnessed it since the Lib-Lab pact of 1977 when I was still a teenager. For the first time in my real adult life I would see a two-party government in action. When Cameron and Clegg went out into the rose garden and spoke in such a chatty, non-stuffy way, you could be forgiven for thinking this was a new breed of politics (and politician). Unfortunately, that level of camaraderie has never been so obvious since, but you had to believe that behind the scenes they were working together in the interests of the country. And that they are still privately on very good terms.
As we know, coalition government is not unusual in many countries – indeed, in some it is regarded as the norm and positively encouraged. What a shame, then, that in this country we have allowed it to be portrayed as a weakness, as two parties that couldn’t achieve anything on their own being forced to work together and compromise, perhaps to the detriment of the nation.
What a shame, also, that hard-headed Tories despised seeing their leader ‘in bed’ with the leader of another party, having his ideas apparently diluted. And what a shame that Lib Dem supporters (who you would think would be relishing the power of government, something they never really believed would be possible) have all but turned on their leader and accused him of selling out.
According to all the forecasts, we are heading for another hung Parliament in a few weeks’ time. And the media debates are already about what dreadful coalition could be created. Will Labour get in bed with the SNP (“No,” says Ed Miliband but watch that space)? Will the Lib Dems side this time with Labour, a party they have absolutely trashed at every opportunity? Or will they repeat the last five years (and maybe spend some time explaining how well it has worked so far)? Or will the Tories go into coalition with UKIP, essentially the old Tory party with even more radical righties than usual? I think we can assume that a coalition of the Tories and the SNP is a definite no-no but, hey, you can never say never.
What won’t happen (but I can still wish, can’t I?) is that coalition government per se will be seen as a positive outcome, far better than having a right- or left-wing party in full power. Surely the reason that neither side comes out as clear winners anymore reflects the views of most British people who no longer care for extremists of any sort. Technically speaking, a blatantly centralist party (like the Lib Dems?) preaching moderation and fairness should win hands down in a general election. But nobody seriously believes that this is possible and too many people are entrenched in their beliefs. No red- or blue-blooded voter is going to give their cross to a party that (rather unfairly, it must be said) is portrayed as a bunch of bearded, sandal-wearing do-gooders.
But coalition – that is an idea that should be embraced heartily by the British people. They should not be blinded by the utter rubbish that masquerades as political comment in our newspapers, TV channels and radio stations.
What would be truly fascinating would be having a coalition option on voting papers. How many people who don’t want either party to have full power but could see Labour and the SNP working or UKIP and the Tories or the Lib Dems and the Greens would put a cross in that box?
We will never know. But one thing is for certain. We really do need – and I aim this comment directly at political journalists who bring their opinions into our lives – to grow up and look at coalition as something that can be extremely positive, something that should even be encouraged.