The Coalition C…

The Coalition Cracks

This week saw the beginning of the end of the Conservative-Liberal-Democrat coalition government — Con-Dem to its critics, Lib-Con to most others — that took office barely 26 months ago. It may collapse entirely in the near future; it may stagger on for a year or so, giving way to a minority-Conservative government after a breakup; it may just possibly serve its promised, full five-year term. But it is now a coalition of parties that hate each other deeply and, worse, that cannot find serious policies they can agree to put forward jointly. It is, so to speak, becalmed and in the doldrums, with mutinies and sword fights breaking out between different factions of the crew as officers fear to intervene.
The “immediate cause” (as we used to say in history lessons) of the disputes now raging between the two parties is a parliamentary bill to reform the House of Lords. Americans may imagine that this is a no-brainer: Surely the House of Lords needs reforming to make it more suitable to a democratic age.
Well, there can obviously be two views on that abstract question, but most Tories looked at the actual Lords reform in front of them and (like almost everyone else) concluded that it was, at best, a King Charles spaniel’s dinner. For instance, the proposed new “democratic” element in the Lords would be senators elected once only, for a term of 15 years, by the method of proportional representation. What’s wrong with that? In brief: Senators elected once cannot be held accountable; 15 years gives the last parliamentary generation a veto on this one; electoral reform, beloved of the Liberals, since it would benefit them, was rejected massively in a referendum only last year; and yet even this skewed “democratic” reform would encourage the Lords to challenge the wholly elected House of Commons and impose a kind of constitutional uncertainty on the British constitution. As it happens, it would also give the Lib-Dems a permanent position in government, as the “swing vote” in the upper house.

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