There is speculation in the media as to the likelihood of the Coalition surviving. Will left wing Liberal Democrats or right wing Conservatives stay on board for much longer?
The problem is that the media, the general public and some of our parliamentarians do not understand the politics of coalition.
It is possible that the media do not want to understand the politics of coalition, good government is not good news but trying to trick MPs into indiscreet statements is. The majority of the right wing press do not want to see a strong third party.
It is at the local government level that the politics of coalition can be seen to be working. Many councils are now run by two party coalitions, and usually well run. Here in Newcastle the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition has provided sound and inspirational government for over four years. Just reading the annual letters from the Audit Commission will show how far we have come in those four years.
I have worked at a senior level in two coalition councils, with Labour at Berkshire County Council and with the Conservatives at Newcastle. We had our difficult moments, but we got through them. With two parties there is likely to be more debate than in a single party government.
In coalition the rules change, and there are a number of guidelines that any elected representative in coalition should take into account.
- Your party did not win the election, you will not be able to deliver all of your manifesto, and you will have to agree some actions that you oppose or have even campaigned against.
- Agree a programme, and stick to it.
- As far as the cabinet is concerned there is collective responsibility for all decisions. There may be blood all over the walls in private meetings but when the decision is taken all cabinet members must support it.
- The local (or national) party and backbenchers must make it clear which of those decisions are in line with party policy and those that are not. Where the party does not agree with a decision it must present an alternative. This is essential to preserve the difference between the parties and to show the electorate that there is a difference between the members of the coalition. Remember you are presenting an alternative not attacking your coalition partners.
- Backbenchers and juniors in the administration should be free to speak up in support of party policy, but should take care not to overthrow the coalition for trivial reasons. This is not being two faced, it is supporting strong government whilst at the same time as presenting an alternative.
- You must use your political newsletters to promote the successes of the coalition, particularly those that have come from your party, and at the same time to promote your alternative policy where appropriate.
- You do not make personal attacks on members of your coalition partner party.
- You must remember that the media do not work to the same standards as you do. If you secretly recorded an interview with a constituent you would be up before the Standards Board at record speed. The media do not have to behave in an open and honest fashion, and are almost certainly out to make mischief. Treat them with a long barge pole.
One notable exception from the media is The Independent. The recent leader on Coalition politics is one of the few recent articles that demonstrates a commentator who understands the true nature of the politics of Coalition. For those interested I have provided a link under the politics tab.
You may not like some of the actions of the coalition, I do not and am campaigning within my own party for the promotion of alternative policies on issues such as Student fees. However consider the alternatives at this difficult time. Give the politics of coalition a chance and we could come though this in a stronger position.