The oddest thing about Britain’s Coalition Government is that so few people saw it coming.
Coalitions are quite rare in the UK, it’s true. No party has won more than 50% in a General Election since 1931 but the First Past the Post system is designed to almost guarantee big majorities. Yet occasionally, as in 1974, this doesn’t happen. It happened again in 2010.
I’m not blaming anyone but it also seems odd that so few people anticipated the eventual Conservative/ Liberal Democrat Coalition. Most people seemed to assume either that the Tories would win outright or that the third party would fulfil its usual role of backing Labour. Until the 1920s, Labour would generally support the larger Liberal Party in Hung Parliament situations. When their roles were reversed, the Liberals generally did the same for Labour as with the 1977-79 Lib-Lab Pact.
This wouldn’t have made sense in 2010. The arithmetic did not favour it. The right decisions were made. The problem is that the current situation pleases nobody.
Tory supporters are just frustrated that they didn’t win outright. The Conservative agenda is frustrated by the fact that the people clearly didn’t really want them back in power. Every u turn is blamed on the Lib Dems. In truth, David Cameron is starting to look like a weak leader anyway.
Labour supporters aren’t happy either. They are glad not to be part of the Coalition. But they are still denied power.
The Lib Dems are also unhappy. The party leadership is guilty of treachery in many supporters’ eyes. The party has failed to fulfil any of its own desires (such as electoral reform or changes to the House of Lords). Nor is it adequately restraining the usual excesses of a Tory Party in power. The Lib Dems more than anyone else risk annihilation in 2015. Nick Clegg looks increasingly vulnerable as leader.
But who is to blame? Normally the wishes of the electorate can be summarised in one sentence e.g. 1979 people had grown weary of strikes and slow growth and wished to give Mrs Thatcher a chance or 1997 with the Tories hopelessly split and damaged by sleaze, the public flocked to New Labour.
But what verdict did the 2010 result send out? People don’t like Gordon Brown but don’t really want the Tories back either?
Ultimately, the country was ready for change in 2010, but even after thirteen years in Opposition, the Tories had still failed to transform themselves into an appealing alternative government.
The Tories have failed democracy and failed Britain too.