But is he satisfied? And what about the Conservatives/Liberal Democrats coalition? Will it last? The Labour PM Gordon Brown has resigned after almost three years in the office.
1. Except of the obvious fact they have together the majority in the House of Commons what do you think binds the Tories and Lib Dems together and what does divide them? Do you think the coalition government could last for the longer time?
2. Would you say the Con/Lib Dems coalition could change the UK in some way very significantly?
3. David Cameron will become PM. But do you think he will achieve it in a way which really satisfies him?
Ben Ansell, Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Minnesota
1. Very little in direct policy terms binds the Tories and Lib Dems. They both agreed not to raise national insurance tax as a way of reducing the deficit – this had been a controversial element of Labour’s fiscal strategy. They have shared interests in cutting the number of MPs (i.e. reducing the number of constituencies), in preventing a third runway at Heathrow and in stopping Labour’s ID card system. More generally, they have philosophical common interests: in particular, in reducing the power of central government – they both consider Labour to be too statist, and to quick to use centralizing policies as opposed to locally developed solutions. They also have some shared interests in civil liberties but this is a recent development for the Tories who have traditionally been very authoritarian so I would not read too much into this. Where they differ is on their fundamental attitudes towards inequality and diversity. On inequality, the Lib Dems are very interested in the welfare of the poor – all their tax policies have been targeted at reducing taxes on low earners whereas the Tories focused on cutting inheritance tax for the top ten percent. On diversity / cosmopolitanism – the Lib Dems favored an amnesty for illegal immigrants (which they will NEVER get from the Tories) and closer contacts with the European Union. The Tories favor stronger borders, deportations of illegal immigrants and, if not withdrawing completely from the EU, a very distant relationship with Brussels. Ten years ago the Europe issue was much more salient and I could not have seen any possibility of coalition with the Lib Dems but the struggles of the Euro have weakened this debate – no-one in Britain seriously considers joining the Euro in the foreseeable future. So the viability of the coalition will depend on the Tories abandoning some of their high-earner oriented policies, and the Lib Dems withdrawing their amnesty. Other than these issues there will be plenty in common – reducing bureaucracy, cutting taxes at low end, cutting spending on central government agencies. The length of the coalition will depend on whether there is a deal over fixed parliamentary terms – if such a deal is struck I expect the coalition to last to the end of the term -say four years. If not, much will depend on whether Cameron thinks he can throw off the Lib Dems and govern alone by holding a new election – but I would imagine he will hold off on that for at least 18 months.
2. The coalition is unusual in terms of recent parliamentary history. There was a hung parliament in the 1970s where Labour relied on the Liberals but it was brief and paved the way in the long run for Thatcher’s rise. I think the bigger similarity can be drawn with the interwar years and the series of National Coalitions formed between Ramsey McDonald (of Labour) and the Conservatives under Stanley Baldwin. These were however during the time of the replacement of the Liberals by Labour as the main opposition to the Conservatives. So if history repeats itself we could see the replacement of Labour by the Lib Dems. But I think this is very unlikely – Labour did well - relative to expectations – in this election by relying on working class whites and immigrants. I don’t see either of these groups moving to the Lib Dems.
3. No! He will have to abandon many of his preferred policies and possibly some of his closest allies in the Tory party.
Joel Krieger, Professor of Political Science, Wellesley College
1. The problem is that they have little commonality of interest beyond a concern for fiscal prudence and stability. I think it likely that the coalition will be of rather short duration. As you know it is the prerogative of the PM to call an election when he/she feels the time is ripe to gain strength by a new election.
2. The most significant change would occur if the Lib-Dems prevail in the change they most desire: a fundamental change from a winner-take-all constituency-by-constituency electoral system to some form of proportional representation. If PR were introduced that would fundamentally change electoral politics in the UK, encourage a more significant role for third or fourth or fifth parties and break the duopoly maintained by the Conservatives and Labour for 60 years. The big question them is whether the system that emerges is stable and centrist like Germany or subject to fragmentation and instability.
3. I think it will be difficult. Although the Liberal democrats are treated as if they were a center party, they are really center-left. On some issues (such as civil liberties and Europe, they are to the left of Labour). Not easy to manage for a young and inexperienced Tory PM.
Chad Martin, Assistant Professor of History, University of Indianapolis
1. The Tories and Lib-Dems are united by necessity rather than ideology. That said, they can be useful for each other. Constructively, it looks like the Lib-Dems and some of the moderate Tories agree on points of tax policy – for example targeting tax breaks to the middle class rather than cutting capital gains taxes. On the other hand, I suspect the Tories want to have the Lib-Dems share the responsibility for the unpopular cuts to social services made inevitable by Britain’s debt level. The Lib-Dems will enjoy having positions in cabinet for the first time since World War II, and the possibility of electoral reform (although what it looks like is that the Tories will allow a referendum then campaign against its passage). While they talk about a coalition that lasts 2-3 years, I simply don’t see it happening. The longer the coalition lasts, Cameron faces internal criticism about compromising with an enemy and Clegg will face similar attacks from Labour. The threat to Clegg will be particularly dangerous in Scotland, and if you see the Lib-Dems lose by-elections in the Celtic Fringe to Labour it will be difficult to justify staying in the coalition. I think that it is basically a race to see who can get what they need for a general election first. The Tories want the economy to improve, so that they can claim credit for it and run an election with an optimistic electorate and win an outright majority before Labour unifies behind whoever is the new leader. The Lib-Dems want electoral reform before they lose too much electoral ground to Labour. Whichever side gets what they want first will no longer have an incentive to stay in the coalition and that will likely be the end.
2. There could be some significant changes. I predict that the ID card scheme will be scrapped. The Alternative Vote might replace the first-past-the-post voting system (that’s seems the best the Lib-Dems can hope for – it looks like Single Transferable Vote isn’t on the table). They might very well change to set 4-year meetings of Parliament. But with the main focus on short-term financial difficulties and tax policy it’s hard to predict what long-term changes they will have time (and political unity) to address.
3. I’m not sure how satisfied he is (he certainly looks satisfied in the photos that show him walking into Number 10), but Cameron lives to fight another day. There are outspoken critics within the Tory party who are unhappy with his failure to win an outright majority and with some of the compromises made to woo the Lib-Dems. But I don’t think anyone will challenge him for the leadership since the Tory hold on power is so tenuous. In my opinion, he leads the party into the next general election.
Sally McNamara, Senior Policy Analyst, European Affairs, The Heritage Foundation
1.The coalition government of David Cameron and Nick Clegg is clearly trying to formulate a clear work plan, in order to minimize divisions further down the road. They are also emphasizing the policies that unite them rather than divide then. The top priority for both parties is to repair the damage done to the British economy by 13 years of socialist government. They have agreed to implement £6 billion of spending cuts, starting this year. There is also a partial agreement on welfare reform, as well as several changes to the tax code. However, there will still be tough decisions ahead, especially on the economy, which have the potential to split the coalition.
Britain’s relationship with the EU is another potential area of conflict. The Conservatives have restated their manifesto commitment to transfer no further powers to the EU during the next Parliament. However, the Liberal Democrats are fundamental Europhiles, which support a vast array of policy areas being transferred to Brussels.
2. All Government’s have the possibility of significantly changing the country, and this one is no different. The most significant change however, will be if they do not take immediate action to address the economic crisis facing the country. Gordon Brown has left Britain hampered with massive national debts and a crisis-level deficit. Doing nothing would be as significant as any one piece of legislation they might introduce.
3. Of course David Cameron would prefer to be Prime Minister with a Conservative majority rather than a coalition government. However, he secured two million more votes than the Labour Party and the Conservative Party gained more seats than at any in election for the last 80 years. He will be satisfied with his performance.
Graham Wilson, Department of Political Science, Boston University
This is an implausible coalition. The Liberal Democrats were to the left of Labour on some key issues — nuclear weapons, immigration and taxation. But getting into government is a crucial gain for the Liberal Democrats and they seem to have extracted a good deal from the Conservatives — especially the referendum on changing the voting system in a way that would strengthen them. We’ll have to see what their agreement pledges about staying together; it’s hard to see this partnership lasting long!
I think Cameron personally will find partnership congenial in some respects. He has tried to move his party to the left and this gives him another reason why they have to moderate their views. But I think everyone will find dealing with the Liberal Democratic MPs difficult; they are not used to or good at being disciplined!
Peter Grosvenor, Associate Professor of Political Science, Political Science Department, Pacific Luteran University
The terms of the coalition deal will be interesting. The two parties have some common ground on civil liberties, education, and the environment, but the sticking points in the negotiations have been cabinet posts, fiscal policy and constitutional reform. Expect Lib Dems in the cabinet, including a prominent economic brief (possibly Chief Secretary to the Treasury) for respected Lib Dem finance spokesman Vince Cable. The Tories will probably give up their inheritance tax cuts, and also concede to the Lib Dems their demand that the first £10,000 of income be taken out of tax. On the constitution, the coalition deal will probably include recall elections for MPs, a smaller number of MPs, and possibly fixed-term parliaments.
But electoral reform is the key issue. There is no prospect that the Tories will concede a referendum on the introduction of proportional representation – usually said by the Lib Dems to be the price of any deal. Reports are that Cameron will agree to a referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV – what Americans call instant run-off voting). This is curious: the Tories strongly favor First-Past-The-Post (FPTP), while the Lib Dems want the more proportional Single Transferable Vote (STV) – AV was Labour’s manifesto proposal! If a Tory-Lib Dem coalition stages a referendum on AV the two constituent parties in the coalition would like campaign on opposite sides!
Filed under: Europe, Politics, UK politics Tagged: | Ben Ansell, Chad Martin, Conservative Party, David Cameron, Europe, Gordon Brown, Graham Wilson, Joel Krieger, Labour Party, Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, Peter Grosvenor, Sally McNamara, The Heritage Foundation, Tories, UK politics, United Kingdom