FT: “For nearly four years, Britain has been served reasonably well by multi-party government”

by Stephen Tall on February 27, 2014

On Tuesday, it was reported that David Cameron wanted to rule out the possibility of a second Lib-Con coalition in the event of another hung parliament. This tit was matched by an equivalent tat from the left, when Unite leader Len Mclusky urged Labour to do the same.

Today’s Financial Times leader attempts to inject a dose of reality into this anti-coalition arms race:

All this chest-beating has stirred Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem deputy prime minister, whose party can only govern with others, to denounce “tribal voices”. And he is right to do so. This should not need reiteration but, for nearly four years, Britain has been served reasonably well by multi-party government. A coalition that was formed to address a fiscal crisis has made gains on that front, and, whatever its sporadic quarrels, defied expectations of a rapid break-up. It is not clear that a minority government would have had the legitimacy to enforce spending cuts and tax rises on the scale seen. If partisans believe Britain is being held back by the absence of a purer kind of government, they should explain how.

Many Tory backbenchers would of course now happily settle for minority government – but haven’t quite thought through the This House reality:

It is not even as if minority government is certain to be a feasible option. Senior Lib Dems privately deride the assumption that they would prop up such an administration by voting for its finance bills and supporting it against any no-confidence motions. They might have felt obliged to provide this “confidence and supply” after the last election, when a fallen government might have been too much for jittery financial markets to bear, but the economic context is unlikely to be so fraught in 2015. They will have the freedom to assert their party’s interests ruthlessly, putting paid to Tory and Labour fantasies of governing alone without earning a majority.

The paper’s final advice is simple, obvious – and right:

Mr Cameron and Mr Miliband should heed the most basic rule of politics: keep your options open.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.