A week ago I was getting ready to write a blog post about the negotiations between the three major UK parties to build a coalition government. It looked like a classic auction was about to develop, with both conservatives and labour throwing bones to the lib dems to lure them over to their side. But it didn’t work out that way. Instead a deal was done quickly between the conservatives and the lib dems, leaving labour out in the cold. Interesting. What happened?
We can only speculate, but a couple of things seem likely. First, there was probably already good rapport between Cameron and Clegg. They wanted to do that deal rather than bicker over incremental details. Or, to put it another way, perhaps Clegg had already ruled out doing a deal with Gordon Brown (refusing to climb onto a sinking ship?). Second, Cameron showed that he understood the timing issue. If negotiations dragged out, he would be weakened in hiw own party. Perhaps Clegg faced a similar problem if people had time to ask why the lib dems did so poorly at the polls. And, as Dave Brooks writes
(Cameron) has potentially weakened the strong partisans in both parties, empowered the pragmatists who are better-suited to coalition politics and created a less polarized political climate.
Will this turn into a changing of the guard? The deal has created a favorable image contrast between Cameron/Clegg (as young and innovative) and Brown as the “odd man out”, and as a “tired old man”. And labour now faces an image problem as the exhausted party, even though it did better than some expected at the polls. It will be fun to watch if Cameron and Clegg find ways to make their style of pragmatism a prevailing norm. And what will labour do? Go “scorched earth” (as the US republican party has)? In the meantime, Cameron deserves credit for seizing the moment. Let the games begin!
FOLLOW - Roger Cohen also likes what he saw, and in his editorial, gives a bit more detail about the new cabinet and the initial policy steps. Here is the link.