I wonder if the bookies are taking bets on how long the new coalition government between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats will last. Some people – many Labour-supporters – believe that the Britons will be asked to vote again within a year. My ability to predict the future is abysmal, but if I were a betting man, I’d put my money on this government lasting quite a long period of time, if not for the entirety of the newly agreed fixed term.
There are naturally many provisos. There may be huge unknown unknown events that will split the coalition. One key factor is the continued leadership of Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg of their respective parties. They probably understand each other pretty well, because they belong essentially to the same group in terms of generational, social and educational backgrounds. In politics, as in other things, personalities and personal chemistry do matter. There are other considerations. The economic and fiscal situation of the country is such that a disciplined government will be absolutely essential. Also, parties probably cannot afford another exhaustive election campaign in the near future.
There are more reasons why both the Tories under Mr Cameron’s leadership and the Liberal Democrats want to see this government work. Mr Cameron has rebranded and repositioned the Conservatives as a right-of-the-centre party, appealing to the middle ground. This seems to be the place where he feels most comfortable. Had there been a small Tory majority, his room for manoeuvre would have been restricted by the right of the party. By enjoying a comfortable coalition majority, Mr Cameron will need to rely less on the right wing of his party. The Liberal Democrats have to demonstrate that coalition governments work for the benefit of the country, in order to convince the British electorate of the merits of PR. Being a party of the coalition is also an opportunity to show that it is a serious political force that can bear the responsibilities of government.
Additionally, the first few months may be made easier as Labour search for its new leader. Depending on how fractious and long-drawn it is, the process of finding a successor to Mr Brown would take the pressure off the new coalition government, and shed light on Labour’s internal divisions. Alternatively, no one may care much who becomes the new leader of the Labour party. Governments, because they run the country, attract more coverage, and after 13 years, Labour MPs may be unused to lack of attention. There are naturally stalwarts who know what it’s like to be in opposition, but equally there are many Labour MPs who only know the existence of being in government, entering the parliament in or after 1997. Sometimes you don’t know what it’s like, until you actually experience it.
This new government was not greeted with the kind of jubilation and adulation that had accompanied Mr Blair’s entrance into No 10 in 1997. Today, in 2010, it was somewhat subdued. This reflects fairly the challenges that the country and the new government face. Interesting times ahead.