Saturday, January 25, 2014
My fan-dabi-dozi column for the Leicester Mercury
On 9 January I had the following column published in the Leicester Mercury.
Run-of-the-mill stuff, you will say, but it appeared on the same spread as The Krankies.
Multi-party politics here for the long haul
I’ve got some bad news for people who don’t like the Coalition: it’s going to continue throughout 2014. And when I say “people who don’t like the Coalition,” I am thinking chiefly of Conservative activists and backbench MPs.
Because ever since their party failed to win the 2010 general election those backbenchers and activists have taken out their anger, not on David Cameron, but on the Liberal Democrats. If it weren’t for Nick Clegg, they tell us, we could do all sorts of wonderful things.
Which is odd, because the Coalition has chalked up some solid achievements. Tax cuts for low-paid workers; scrapping Labour’s plans for compulsory national identity cards; maintaining the overseas aid budget; providing more funding to schools to help children from poor families.
It’s even odder when you look at what those backbenchers and activists think a Conservative government would do if it weren’t reined in by the Liberal Democrats. Cuts in inheritance tax for millionaires; allowing employers to fire people at will; a database to record everyone’s emails and text messages; abolishing Natural England, the public body that conserves our natural environment.
That does not sound like a programme to enthuse anyone beyond the Conservative Party. So one effect of the Coalition may have been to make David Cameron more popular than he would have been if he were leading a one-party government.
But let’s leave the party politics aside and look at the deeper picture. Back in 1951 the Conservatives and Labour between them received 96.8 per cent of the votes cast. By the time of the last general election that figure had fallen to 65.1 per cent.
The Liberal revival, the rise of the Nationalist parties in Scotland and Wales, and the arrival of the Greens and UKIP mean that multi-party politics is here to stay. And that, despite the near lottery of our current electoral system, means that coalitions are much more likely in future.
And why assume that is a bad thing? Ask the public what they think of politics and they say they hate petty squabbling and want to see people from different parties working together. That is what coalitions give you.
Maybe they make radical change less likely, but it’s not as if the major parties are far apart these days. I would like to see this government doing more to help the poor, but I remember that Labour’s rising star Rachel Reeves has promised to be tougher on benefits than the Coalition.
So not only will the Coalition last throughout 2014: coalition governments may well be here to stay.