After the Whigs double-dealing blew up in their faces, they were lucky to find the Tories still prepared to offer what had already been agreed. Had it been the Tory deal that blew up, Mandelson and Campbell would have withdrawn any outline offer they might have agreed. Cameron’s Tories showed great statesmanship in keeping the agreed offer on the table and then completing negotiations as though nothing had happened.
Today begins an historic coalition of Tory and Whig. It will be a challenging relationship because, although the two parties agree on a number of important areas in general terms, they differ in many details. They also have diametrically opposed views of other important subjects.
The cynic will take the view that Cameron’s Tories are following the old adage “keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer”, or the old robust American adage “better to have the bastards inside the tent pissing out, than outside pissing in”. There may be some truth in it but Cameron is emerging as a One Nation Tory, which makes better sense of his Big Society idea that political pundits were too dense to understand and too quick to dismiss.
Historically, the Whigs have been the country party, the privileged squires, the professionals, and the social reformers. A honourable background, spoiled only by a rising tide of corruption that saw them dismembered by outraged voters after World War One. In their wanderings in the wilderness, they attracted a strange collection of the disaffected and positively weird. The result has been a succession of Whig manifestos that no one bothered to read because they contained a confused rambling that reflected the confused collection of fellow refugees from politics. That has not yet changed and it remains to be seen how the Whigs will develop during the next three years. A regular comment by those that have attended Whig annual conferences is that they came out knowing less about Whig policies than when they went in
In all the excitement of the chattering classes in the chaotic run up to the General Election, and the Blair Brown Communications (formerly the British Broadcasting Corporation) fever of speculation on ‘balanced’ governments, the reality of a hung Parliament was glossed over.
Every British Government from the time of the first Prime Minister Walpole has been a coalition. Most of these coalitions have been within the framework of an established party, Whig or Tory, and later Tory or National Socialist/Labour. Some majority rule, notably the Tories’ John Major Government, have demonstrated just how fragile this coalition within a party can be. Others, notably Churchill and Thatcher, have managed to look like a majority Government by a single group of people. The reality is that there is a long way from one wing of a party to the opposite extreme. The Tories overlap Labour in parts and also overlap the Whigs.
Traditionally we confuse matters by talking of Left and Right, which are lazy and inaccurate definitions of political affiliations. The two National Socialist wings of the Labour party are almost identical. The only real difference is that one wing follows the model of Stalin, while the other follows the model of Mussolini and Hitler. That is not much difference other than the impact it has on international relations. The Stalinist wing of Labour once, and perhaps still, includes paid agents of Russia. The Fascist wing is more detached because the German and Italian Fascists went into hiding in 1945 and have only recently begun to re-emerge into political life, with many Fascists leaving Labour with Sir Oswald Mosely in the 1930s, their heirs today being accommodated by the BNP.
Within the Labour party there are social democrats who may also side with one national socialist wing or other on some subjects. They may be closer to parts of the Whig and Tory parties than to their own Labour colleagues. It appears that the Whig talks with Mandelson and Campbell blew up partly because the Whigs realized they were being conned, but mainly because honourable social democrat elements of Labour revolted against what was a seedy and dishonourable negotiation that put the interests of politicians before nation and voter.
In the new Tory led Coalition Government, some Whigs will very closely share the views of their new colleagues. Equally, some members of the Whig party will be viscerally opposed to the Tories and closely aligned with the most extreme elements of the Labour party. In that lies the dangers for the future working of the Coalition. These extremists will be constantly looking for any excuse to revolt against the Tories and their own leaders. This position makes the decision of the Whig leaders bold and principled because they must recognize the dangers ahead not just for the Coalition but also for their own party.
Over the next three years it is entirely possible that the Whigs will fragment as a party, with their extremists going off to find a home with Labour extremists. It is also entirely possible that a successful Coalition may attract social democrats and they are most likely to be attracted by the Whigs rather than the Tories, making the Whigs far more electable in the future and a party that is a coalition of a narrower range of views, better able to produce a manifesto that stands up to scrutiny.
Although political pundits are talking fast and long today, the real prospects for the Coalition will only emerge after the Queen’s Speech when the first legislative programme is laid out and voted on by Parliament. Once through that first hurdle, there is a mountain of debt to climb and a formidable and growing collection of challenges to face. Along the way, Cameron may find that he has to sack some Whig colleagues. As Prime Minister it is his duty to government and to appoint Ministers. As leader of a coalition he has keep his partners on side when a situation demands one of their heads. Equally he may have to replace some his party colleagues in the interests of maintaining an effective Coalition. This will make the job of Prime Minister even more demanding than it would otherwise be. If Cameron can maintain the Coalition for a full term, he will be a major statesman to go down into history for the finest reasons.
For generations the Whigs have been obsessed by a demand for a change in the voting system. That has been a major diversion and an admission that they were unelectable. Coalition may change their views. There is a mountain of political and constitution reform that must be attended to first to correct the vandalism of thirteen years of national socialist mis-government.
The main problem with Proportional Representation is that it covers many very different systems and none of them are any fairer than a first-past-the-post system as currently used for Westminster elections. In many respects, the PR systems are far less fair than the current British national system. PR is also cumbersome. The deal Tories and Whigs reached yesterday was achieved at lightning speed in only four days. Other countries that face a coalition negotiation after every election frequently take months to cobble together a shaky coalition that may not last as long as the negotiations that created it.
This comes back to the basis of creating parties in the current British system. As each major party is a broad coalition of views and interests, it inevitably overlaps the other parties to some extent. All PR does is to encourage a larger number of smaller parties with narrower interests with large parties fragmenting to spawn many new parties. In this environment pride and ego produce a very complex ritual dance once each party knows how many votes it has and can begin a negotiation for a share of power. In the British political system, that ritual dance takes place before an election to form a coalition that is a party and has already agree a raft of major policies and identified areas that some members are not comfortable. If that party wins an overall majority of seats at an election, it is in effect a pre-negotiated coalition already to step forward and make the decisions that have to be made. There is no delay for a possibly protracted ritual dance that never produces a stable coalition, largely because the partners are discovering things that within a party they would already know.
In Britain thirteen years of national socialist vandalism has created a seriously broken constitution and political structure that has encouraged blatant fraud and corruption. The devolution of Scotland was originally intended by Bottler Brown (architect of the devolution process) to cement for all time a Labour one-party state. Like so much of Labour legislation it was a shambles that also bit its creator by helping the Scottish National Party to expand sufficiently to become the minority Government of Scotland. It is highly questionable that the Scots are satisfied with the result and the English are very angry because they are paying huge sums of money to Scotland without any ability to vote on how English money is spent, while Scottish MPs are able to vote on exactly how the English spend their own money on themselves. With Northern Ireland now completing again its own devolution and the Welsh not unreasonably asking why they can have the same local powers as the Irish and the Scots, the English are close to revolt. AS a result a priority for the new Cameron Government must be to start sorting out this mess and adjusting all Westminster constituencies so that they are of approximately equal size and reflect any regional issues. Scotland already has more MPs than its population is entitled to, originally granted to compensate for the geographic distance from Westminster. Now that Scotland administers so much in Edinburgh, the extra MPs are no longer justified. As they should have no say in English domestic issues, that suggests their numbers should be further cut to reflect the light duties they should have at Westminster. Similar arguments apply to Irish and Welsh Westminster constituencies and, to a lesser extent many Labour seats in England where Labour poll rigging has created many rotten boroughs that should be purged. This reform would be very delicate and may bring forward further considerations where parts of Scotland and Wales would rather not be ruled from Edinburgh and Cardiff. In Scotland, the Border areas voted against devolving to Scotland. Shetland and the Orkneys have a long social tradition that is separate fro the Scots and a greater claim to offshore oil and gas than Edinburgh.
Some of the national imbalances through the UK must be addressed now, but a full reform may require more than one Parliament, the present mess being partly a result of the way Labour rushed the devolution legislation.
There are many interesting months ahead.