As Churchill once remarked, democracy is the worst form of government “except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”. While democracy is an imperfect system, its institutions take a pragmatic approach and are designed to optimise electoral representation while enabling workable, stable governments. With these basic tenets in mind, how does the current UK Coalition government measure up against one-party rule with which we are more familiar?
With nine months behind them, the two governing parties of the Coalition have much to be proud of: a clear and credible plan for reducing the budget deficit to put the public finances back on to a sustainable footing; a major overhaul of welfare to make work pay; radical reform of public services to decentralise management and increase end user choice; an increased personal tax allowance to help those on lower incomes; and a redress of the balance in civil liberties.
The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have achieved a surprising level of agreement on such issues and have, at least so far, provided a more stable government than might have initially been thought possible. Aside from the expected internal bickering and patent discomforts of certain ministers working with former political opponents, the stability of the Coalition is arguably comparable to that of one-party government. This is especially so in light of the challenging economic circumstances and difficult decisions that have to be taken.
As the governing parties frequently like to point out, all of this is being done in the “national interest”, in which party differences have been put aside, as David Cameron boldly proclaimed last May. While such rhetoric has initially attractive connotations, intended to create a more conciliatory government image transcending party politics, unfortunately in practice important issues concerning democratic legitimacy, trust and vested party interests may be discerned when one peers behind the veneer.