Parliamentary sketch – A better way of doing coalition government?
Four and a half years ago I cautioned my Party that we shouldn’t encase ourselves in a straitjacket when entering Coalition with our mortal enemies – the Tories. Two recent events show that Parties in a Coalition should give each other room to retain their identity.
1) When my Bill to reverse Government policy on the so called “Bedroom Tax” succeeded in a vote a month ago the Government didn’t collapse. There wasn’t a run on the £pound. The world didn’t stop.
2) The Tory Leader recently claimed that his Party would attempt to match the Liberal Democrat policy of taking the poorest out of income tax altogether. It showed that the Tories have learnt something from being in Coalition with us. It was our manifesto policy to lift the burden of tax on the poorest. It wasn’t theirs. It was Tory policy to cut taxes for the richest. We’ve delivered our policy and they’ve now recognised that it’s popular as well as right.
Coalition Government should be an opportunity to strengthen our democratic institutions. This week I launched a model for Coalition Government which proposes to slacken the straitjacket around the Parties of a Coalition and offer more reasoned latitude. It would strengthen Parliament and give everyone a chance to engage in and to influence Government policy.
When we decided to enter Coalition Government on May 11th it was a sobering moment. No jubilation. Just a recognition that we had to make this work.
It was of course, a “least worst” option. The public finances were in a mess; the economy in danger of catastrophic decline. The last thing the country needed was the routine tribalism of the Westminster Village. No party had a majority. The country needed stable government. We did what had to be done.
For those of us who had spent years fighting the Conservatives in constituencies like this the act of ushering the Tories in to power for five years was a bitter but unavoidable pill to swallow. On the other hand, the Liberal Democrats, more than any other Party, had bemoaned “Punch and Judy” politics and had, for decades, promoted the merits of seeking mature political consensus.
As for Coalition with the Tories; despite not having a majority of the votes cast, they had gained more Parliamentary seats than any other Party. Labour had lost. They had made it clear to me that they were not interested in forming a Coalition Government; being acutely aware of the state of public finances and the unpopular decisions any incoming Government could not avoid. We had promised to respect the wishes of the electorate; now we had to do so.
I had warned back then that I feared we were signing up to too much too soon; we had no machinery to deal with the “events” which the Coalition Government would inevitably have to respond to in the coming years; we were boxing ourselves in too tightly, abstaining on “red line” issues/pledges; and there were fine words which were open to wide interpretation. As a Party which had always argued that Parliament should be more effective in holding the Government to account, the Coalition Programme was drafted in a way which sought to button up opportunities for Parliament to ultimately determine the outcome.
Now, four and a half years later, what do we know?
Well, sceptics had reasonably warned that in Coalition politics, the major party is credited with its achievements, and the minor party its failures. The Eastleigh by-election victory is but one exception to a pattern of election results which prove this.
However, more importantly, we have shown that Coalition Government works in the UK and that – aside from the poisonous impact it has had upon the standing of the Liberal Democrats – it has proven that the public and Parliament have more influence on a Coalition Government than single Party rule and it has been accepted by the public with what can only be described as nonchalance.
But, we can learn lessons of the past four years, while reinforcing many of my concerns about the Coalition operating under a misguided pretence of attempting to ape one party Government and taking Parliament for granted. We should be able to do Coalition Government better.
You can contact Andrew George by email: firstname.lastname@example.org. His constituency office can be contacted at Trewella, 18 Mennaye Road, Penzance, Cornwall, TR18 4NG. Telephone: 01736 360020.
Andrew George MP
Kernow a’n West ha Syllan
West Cornwall and the Scillies
Constituency of St Ives
Tel: 01736 360020
Fax: 01736 332866
7th October 2014