I am surprised at the number of parallels there are between the UK 2010 formation of Government, and what happened in 1996. Here’s a few of them:
- The third largest party gets to decide who forms the Government.
- It is a party that professes to be centrist but overall is distinctly centre-left
- They had a choice of a majority Government with the CR party or a minority Government with the CL party. This was a key factor in 1996 and 2010.
- They went with the centre-right party, despite great policy similarity with Labour
- In both cases the arrogance of the Labour negotiators was a significant factor in pushing the third party to go the other way.
- The agreement between the two parties is a full coalition, with the minor party leader becoming Deputy Prime Minister
- Rather than confront issues when they come up and agree up front on just a few policies (as has happened from 1999 onwards in NZ), they have negotiated a very detailed policy programme.
The question is, will it end up the same way as National/NZ First – in divorce.
The agreement to set a five year term of Parliament (proposed that one needs a 55% vote in Parliament to have an early election) will encourage them to work out differences.
However the policy differences are huge in areas like Europe, and with fiscal policy. Sure they have reached agreement for now, but in two or three years Conservatives will want to push harder one way, and Lib Dems activists harder the other way. It is hard to see enough common ground to last for five years.
Three factors in favour of them lasting the distance are the three leaders:
- Nick Clegg is not Winston. He can be trusted and is rational.
- Cameron is a centrist and should be able to work with Clegg. The challenge is keeping his Caucus happy.
- Will Labour be a credible alternative. It will depend on who becomes Leader, and how well they do.
Overall I would not put money on them lasting the full five years. I think they will last at least a couple of years, but after that the differences in policy direction may get to be too great.