By Shane Henegan
So the UK has a coalition government. Did you ever think you’d see the day? Watching British newsreaders attempt to annunciate the word “coalition” is a laugh enough in itself.
Hearing experienced pundits grapple with the concept is interesting too. Perhaps Great Britain could do worse than look across the water to Ireland, a country that has had coalitions, at least every so often since 1948 and consistently since 1989. The last British coalition was formed in the 1940s due to national emergency rather than electoral necessity.
The first thing to observe is that what divides the Liberal Democrats and the Tories on paper isn’t necessarily how it transpires in the annals of power. Take Europe for example. David Cameron is almost certainly not as Euroscepticic as his 2005 leadership campaign would have one believe. The withdrawal of the Conservatives from the main Christian Democrat grouping in the European Parliament that this campaign led to has already done enough damage to the new PM’s prospective standing in Europe. A moderate policy on Europe to heal these wounds would suits any administration he might be party to.
For Clegg’s part, he leads a party that is staunchly pro European and still very much in favour of Sterling joining the euro sooner rather than later. Most economists will tell you that this should not and probably cannot happen in the lifetime of this Parliament without great difficulty. Thus for Clegg, a moderate policy on Europe is also rather convenient.
In Ireland, we have seen how this unpredictable jig moves on many occasions. Party leaderships with a disconnect between themselves and their party grassroots, or their electorates for that matter, can use their political bed fellows as mudguards. It can be confusing and frustrating, I grant you that, but it also makes for much more colourful politics than the monochrome means of dividing power that the British have experienced since 1945.
A British friend of mine once told me he was against the whole concept of coalition; as it meant that as no one party got to govern alone this resulted in compromise meaning that no voter gets the set of promises that they voted for. I counter this with the premise that all democracy is fundamentally based on compromise, one rigid set of values being imposed on others by a party that merely has a pluarliarity of their support bears no relation to democracy as I know it. Coalition, as Britain is about to learn, is merely an extension of democratic ideals and should hopefully close the gap between government and citizen. The learning curve will be steep and there shall certainly be bumps on the road but we can rest assured it shall make for interesting times.