Saturday, 15 May 2010

Coalition tie

I never anticipated a Conservative-Liberal coalition government. In fact, I think I have only made two correct predictions over the last couple of weeks. I forecast that Chris White would win Warwick and Leamington for the Conservatives, but greatly underestimated his majority. Actually my original intuition was that his majority would be over 3,000, but I couldn't believe that the swing would be that big. If it had been across the country as a whole, the Conservatives would have a comfortable working majority.

Following Gordon Brown's resignation, my local BBC radio station rang up and asked me on air when David Cameron would arrive at Downing Street. I did a very rough calculation of the likely choreography, but it was an inspired guess that made me say 8.45 p.m. (it was 8.43).

Once the election results were known, I thought that the Lib Dems would limit themselves to a 'confidence and supply' agreement with the Conservatives and that another election would follow. Although the so-called 'progressive majority' is something of a myth and not all Lib Dem voters are natural Labour voters who have strayed, I though they would be reluctant to vacate their slightly left-of-centre political space and risk their identity.

When the National Government was formed in 1931, the Liberals split (as did Labour, although National Labour was a small faction). The National Liberals had a distinct identity into well in the post-war period with their own whips and space in the House of Commons. Some candidates stood as 'National Liberal and Conservative' or some such formulation. But they became a footnote to history.

I realised how much I changed when I saw the Lord President of the Council, Nick Clegg, leading his fellow cabinet ministers into Buckingham Palace to receive their seals of office. They must have thought they would never see the day. It is also good to see a talented young woman like Sarah Teather become a minister of state.

The personal chemistry in the coalition is so far good, with perhaps a hint of tension between Vince Cable and George Osborne. The coalition agreement, a much shorter agreement than is usual in continental Europe, needs to be fleshed out, although it was completed with commendable speed (it takes about three weeks in Germany). Mechanisms have been put in place to resolve disagreements. Some of the most difficult issues may arise because of EU directives or regulations, with decisions unfavourable to British interests on hedge funds scheduled to be taken in a week or two.

There has been some argument about the fixed term parliament proposals, with constitutional experts expressing different views. The legislation may get a rough ride in the House of Lords.

I had a look in my wardrobe this morning at my collection of ties. I don't wear a tie that often, although I have a lot. But I didn't have one that was predominantly blue with a subordinate yellow theme. So I went out and bought one.

Whilst talk of the 'national interest' has been overdone in the last few days, the country's economic and financial circumstances are such that we need this coalition government to work.


Anonymous said...

So, what is your view on the duration in power of the new coalition? Do you think it will last for 4-5 years?

Wyn Grant said...

I have to be honest and say I don't know because this is such an unprecedented situation - in many respects 1931 was very different. This week I have felt overtaken by the pace of events. However, I am sceptical about whether it will last four years, but if it lasts two to three, that would be long enough to have a credible medium-term fiscal policy in place.