For coalitions to work, there has to be trust

Back in September, I explained my reasons for wanting to see an end to the coalition, and nothing I’ve seen politically in the last three months has caused me to change my mind on that issue.

One of the reasons I gave for wanting to see it end was that “the coalition’s no longer about trying to come up with a joint policy programme, but about horse-trading and threats”. I think this trend is perfectly exemplified in this story, where the Tories in government were supposedly negotiating with Liberal Democrats while also raising funds from donors to stop it from happening.

While this is just one incident, it’s a symptom of how this coalition is failing. For a coalition to work, there has to be mutual trust between the parties involved. No matter how closely the parties want to show they are in public, there will always be disagreements in private that have to be resolved in some way. However, you can’t expect disputes to be resolved if one party is not coming to the table in good faith and pretending to negotiate over something they’ve got no intention of conceding on and, indeed, are actively working against.

However, as I also wrote about in September, this is a trap the Liberal Democrats fall into when we commit to the ‘we have to show that coalition works‘ line. If one party is resolutely wedded to not leaving the negotiating table in any circumstances, then it encourages the other to not play fair – there’s no need for them to build a relationship of trust with their partner, as breaking that trust doesn’t lead to any penalties.

As I’ve argued before, there’s plenty of evidence from across the UK and across the world to show that coalitions can work, so to claim that we have to stick in government regardless to prove they can isn’t strong leadership, it’s reflective of an unwillingness to make a wider argument. (Yet again, it’s the crippling belief that only what happens in Westminster is important in British politics) A single-party government can fail (see 1992-97 for an example), but that doesn’t mean that all single-party administrations are doomed to failure. In the same vein, the argument can be made that coalitions can work, but that the bad faith of the Tories has made this one unworkable. Just as one couple getting divorced doesn’t mean all marriages are doomed to fail, one coalition ending because one party to it is wedded to an unsuccessful economic dogma does not mean that all coalitions will end the same way.

2 thoughts on “For coalitions to work, there has to be trust”

  1. I think the main problem why that this coalition has not worked,was simply Nick Clegg was either a bad card player,(not realising how much influence he had,its not just about the number of MP,s,but the very fact you could have sunk the Tories.)or,he agreed with what the Tories have done,and had no intention of stopping it.
    Particularly on student fees,the NHS and Welfare.And frankly,whatever position Clegg had has knocked back the LibDems twenty years.

  2. Sorry Nick but without the coalition we would have unstable government. I would rather have it than not have it. You are right about the mutual trust aspect, but the Tories have the majority in the coalition and they are bound to get the majority of the say. As far as I see, the likes of Danny Alexander and Vince Cable have huge respect and prominence in this government and I would be sorry to not see them any more. They bring a steadying hand, as far as I can see. But Mr Clegg is a disappointment. Sorry.

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