Thursday, 20 May 2010

Who gets shafted in coalition - David or Goliath?

I have read some interesting articles and discussions around the place following the emergence of the Cameron-Clegg coalition from the recent general election.

On Facebook and the local Internet community forums much complaining has taken place, a lot of it to the effect that any agreement would be Conservative dominated and that the Liberal Democrats would end up playing patsy to their larger partner. Understandably a lot of this has emanated from members or supporters of the Labour Party, who could be assumed to be unhappy with the coalition if for no other reason than that it replaced their own regime and that they are not part of it.

Reading the News at the BBC and elsewhere it seems there are rumblings of discontent from some on the right wing of the Conservative Party, who seem surprised and upset that a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition appears unlikely to pursue a purebred Conservative agenda.

An uneasy sense of deja vu overcame me when I read the particular concerns of Lord Tebbit. The reason for this was that I had beheld similar outbreaks of incredulity on occasions as a member of the previous administration at the London Borough of Hounslow, in which the Community Group had itself been a junior partner to the Conservatives, when it had been explained to those concerned that as a coalition the administration would be taking some aspects of the Community Group's programme on board as part of its overall policy portfolio.

What sometimes gets overlooked during the debate as to whether it is the senior or the junior partner that is calling the tune is that political parties and groups are themselves often coalitions of a kind, and the larger the party or group in question the more of a coalition it presumably is. The Leader of Hounslow Council under the coalition administration was a moderate and pragmatic man. It would be fair to say (although usually disputed by Labour for tactical reasons) that on the mundane issues of policy the Community Group on the council had more in common with the "moderate" wing of the Conservative Group - for want of a better term - than with its right wing. And, more significantly, the moderate wing of the Conservative Group had more in common with us.

If I can put that another way, it wasn't always with regret that the Conservative leadership would abandon proposals from its right wing "because the Community Group won't accept them". The Prime Minister would appear to be using his being in coalition with the Liberal Democrats as an opportunity to shape his own policy programme in much the same way, to the evident annoyance of the headbangers.

Of course where the Community Group was more "extreme" than its Conservative partners of both left and right, in the areas of culture change and democratisation, we met a lot more resistance and eventually, in my view, failed to break down the establishment sufficiently in a way that would have prevented the Old Order from being rebuilt, as it is now likely to be.

The Liberal Democrats in government will similarly find their partners to be less co-operative in areas where there are real differences between themselves and the Prime Minister's team.

It will be interesting to see what comes out of the mix. For the moment I am just pleased that Clegg would appear to be holding his ground in the face of what must have been some quite formidable pressure.

No comments: