TM NOTE: I’d like to introduce you to England’s own AA Birch, who will be writing periodically here at TM about British politics, as well as sports.
The turn of the year in Britain has delivered the country a big landmark. A halfway point of something extremely important to the country. To do with an organism the United Kingdom couldn’t possibly survive without. Any guesses? I thought so, and you’d be wrong. I’m not talking about the latest Royal offspring. I am, in fact, talking about the good old British government. And not just any British government, a coalition British government.
This might seem a strange landmark to “celebrate”, after all, every government formed since the late seventies has lasted a “proper” term (four or five years). But there was a time two and a half years ago when it seemed the coalition would struggle to see out 2010.
Given the lack of mandate handed out to any of the three main parties by the electorate, it took five days of meetings before a government was formed. Much to the ire of almost everyone involved, the Conservatives (most votes but no majority) teamed up with the Liberal Democrats (third-most votes as usual) to create a majority against the Labour Party (second most votes, former government). Think of it as a medium-sized band of liberal-ish Republicans teaming up with a small band of very liberal Democrats. Neither side got what they really wanted, but both sides had been out of power so long that agreeing to join forces became the only possible outcome.
They’d done it for the good of the country, or words to that effect. But what had really happened was the Conservatives had blown their campaign, thinking they would easily secure a majority. Once this became apparent they had the option of operating as a minority government, leaving themselves open to defeat every time they wanted to pass legislation. Or, they could forego some of their policies in exchange for leading a majority coalition.
The Liberals were also caught between two outcomes. As the third party in the system, a hung parliament is the only way they rise to any sort of power nationally, without changing the voting system. The trouble was deciding who to team up with. The Labour Party, closer in terms of ideology but basically a defeated government, or the Conservatives. Erring on the side of what was best for public relations, the Liberals decided on keeping the government defeated. The country had spoken, and as far as the Liberals were concerned, even though nobody had won, Labour had to lose.
A quick fast forward through a number of unconvincing group photos, minister resignations and squabbling over policy, with the next general election at most 28 months away, and the new tag line remains similar to the first “The Coalition: Together in the national interest”. Maybe changing the word “national” to “self” would be a better representation of why the government exists in its current form. But those decisions are probably best left to the marketing department. Give it six months and the Royal baby will render stories on the coalition pointless. Once again it will be time to celebrate a British landmark, only that one will last a lifetime.