by Callum Anderson
The 2015 general election campaign is now slowly in full swing. With four months to go, many of the electorate are already beginning to tire of the petty point-scoring between the party leaders about the leadership debates.
Yet, the answer to the question former prime minister Ted Heath famously asked: ‘Who governs Britain?’ could be rather inconclusive come 8th May.
The opinion polls suggest that this election will be too close to call, with some suggesting we are entering an era of four, five or maybe even six party politics – though Labour Uncut’s editor Atul Hatwal’s makes a set of very plausible predictions.
But whatever happens, the implications for our democracy could be enormous.
It is highly unlikely that either Labour or the Conservatives will gain quite enough seats to gain a majority in Parliament. Parliamentary arithmetic will determine whether either party is best placed to seek to form a minority administration or enter a coalition, or confidence-and-supply arrangement with someone such as the Liberal Democrats or Scottish.
Yet there are some such as Ian Birrell and Mary Dejevsky who claim that a UK Grand Coalition – that is a coalition between Labour and the Conservatives – should not be fled out. They argue that the fact that both parties are currently marooned in the low 30s in terms of share of the vote, the two main parties would put their differences aside to govern in the national interest.
Does such an arrangement have a post-war precedent elsewhere? Yes.
Will it happen in Britain in 2015. No.
In Germany, a so-called ‘Grand Coalition’ (or, colloquially, GroKo) has been the principal form of government in the twenty-first century. Between 2005 and 2009, followed by the current administration since 2013, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) have shared power alongside the Social Democrats (SDP).
No-one in early 2005, least of all the then-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, could have seen such a power-sharing arrangement occurring. Indeed, it was Schröder’s famously aggressive performance in the last ‘Chancellor-debate’, where he angrily declared to Mrs Merkel that she ‘would never become the German Chancellor’ that sealed his own personal fate as the CDU secured the most votes. The combination of the proportional representation system in the German parliament and hard-fought negotiation ultimately led Mrs Merkel to force Mr Schröder to eat his words.
Mrs Merkel has subsequently led her two Grand Coalitions through two relatively stable terms (politically speaking). But it is the very collegiate and consensual approach of the vast majority of German politicians – that differs from the UK political culture and explains why such an arrangement would never work.
A UK GroKo between Labour and the Conservatives would be destined to fail. Despite the fact that both parties, in aggregate, are likely to gain over sixty per cent of the popular vote, any notion that either parties’ respective membership would accept any kind of accommodation to the others’ policies is just unthinkable, and frankly, unrealistic.
Relations between the two party leaders are also so bad that the idea of either one becoming ‘Deputy Prime Minister’ to the other – complete with Rose Garden inauguration – is ludicrous.
Furthermore, it can be almost entirely guaranteed that even if there were some agreements among certain frontbenchers of either party, there would be a large number of backbenchers who reject coalition immediately out of hand.
Then there is the basic practicalities of government that would leave any Labour-Conservatives coalition dead in the water: agreement over a Queen’s Speech, a budget or a cabinet.
For all the optimism that Birrell and Dejevsky try to muster, it is at best idealistic, at worst, highly irrational, to believe that any UK GroKo could last even a month.
Yes, Britain is at a crossroads on a whole host of issues. Be it the National Health Service, the pension or welfare systems or the increasingly burdensome housing crisis: I and countless other Britons would like to see politicians put aside their partisanship and do what’s in the public interest.
The reality is that when we wake up on 8th May, we may not be entirely sure which parties will constitute our government. But there will definitely not be a Grand Coalition.
Callum Anderson works at a national charity