SHOULD THERE BE A COALITION GOVERNMENT TO TACKLE CRISIS?
As National Liberals we believe that many problems can be solved by the co-operation of all those of goodwill. The consequences of the credit crunch was greater unemployment and a burgeoning National Debt. The consequences of the debt will be a huge increase in taxes, a drastic cut in public spending or both.
The General Election debate was meant to be over which party had the best/most effective policies to tackle this looming crisis. The actual result however has left no single party with enough seats in Parliament to form a Majority Government (this is an unusual aberation of our political system since First Past the Post voting is designed to produce ‘strong’ Government). Hence, at the time of writing, the largest party (Conservative) were holding negotiations with a minor (but statistically significant) party (Liberal Democrat) to form a functioning Government i.e. one that can command a working majority of MPs in the House of Commons.
Whatever the price the Conservatives have to pay for Liberal Democratic support (and if it is electoral reform we would approve) opponents of such a deal would suggest such a Government is inherantly unstable and a hostage to fortune i.e. the parties may fall out. Regardless of how it may come about do we have any precedence to indicate one way or another?
Whilst some ‘hung’ Parliaments have resulted in early re-elections i.e. in 1923 and 1974 the challenges of war or economic crisis has sometimes led to the formation of effective National/Coalition Governments where various parties set aside policy differences to work together to combat the larger problem.For example, to assist the (First World) war effort, an all-party coalition was formed in 1915 under the Liberals. In the 1930′s a ‘National’ Government was also formed to fight an economic crisis following the Great Depression. After the Wall Street Crash and the following Depression the country (and most others) faced severe financial and economic pressures affecting trade, Exchequer revenues and the strength of the pound. The then Labour Government couldn’t internally agree on a plan of action and resigned.
However the leader of the Labour Party (and previous Prime Minster) Ramsey MacDonald met with the Conservative and Liberal Opposition and agreed to form a National Government composed of “men from all parties” with the specific aim of balancing the Budget and restoring confidence. Although meant to be of short-duration it did in fact last until the end of the Second World War.
Not everyone agreed and the majority of the Labour Party and half of the Liberal Party at some point sat in Opposition. Supporters of the National Government in Parliament sat as National Labour or Liberal National members.
COUNTRY BEFORE PARTY
The resulting Liberal National Party (later National Liberal) took the decision to abandon (at least temporarily) their previous adherence to Free Trade and supported Tariffs to protect British jobs. This was largely successful and minimised the effects of the economic crisis. Their sacrifice of a strongly held principal (and at the cost of a damaging split in Liberalism) was taken in the interests of putting COUNTRY before PARTY.
We as modern day National Liberals not only believe that parties should co-operate to promote certain policy positions, we also believe Governments faced with a national crisis should put aside policy differences in the national interest.
The next Government is faced with a multitude of problems: a de-flated pound, declining manufacturing output, shrinking credit streams, retail businesses & shops closing and rising unemployment and of course a massive National Debt.Therefore, rather than continually snipe at each other and jockey for their preferred ‘pact’, we suggest the parties (whether composed of two or more of them) come together to find ways of tackling this economic crisis in CO-OPERATION rather than in OPPOSITION.
The Liberal Democrats price for any agreement will be electoral reform. If this is some version of Proportional Representation this will sooner or later result in a more diverse Parliament with a multitude of parties. It will certainly ensure no one party can command a majority of seats (unless they achieve nearly or over 50% of the vote!) and thus only coalitions will be able to govern. Rather than bemoan such a scenario parties must embrace it. We certainly shall.