Coalitions are the new norm in our politics

COALITIONS always seem to take us Brits by surprise.

Certainly, an alliance, formal or otherwise, between the Conservatives and the DUP wasn’t on many people’s betting slips or preferred options before we went to the polls on Thursday.

But should democratically-minded folk welcome such results with open arms.

Logically we absolutely should.

I’m not passing judgement here on whether there truly is sufficient common ground between the two parties concerned – but on the principle of coalitions in general.

It’s a fact that two out of the last three elections since 2010 have resulted in a hung parliament and been resolved by a coalition – and the other, in 2015, was heavily predicted to end the same way only for David Cameron’s Tories to sneak over the magical 326 seat target and claim power on their own.

Coalition governments are, for some reason, invariably viewed as weak and with suspicion in this country.

My first experience of them was the much-maligned ‘Lib-Lab pact’ back in 1974. That was seen very much as a last resort and a second General Election was called later the same year which produced a small Labour majority.

That remained the only time it had happened in modern British history until Nick Clegg’s Liberals came to the aid of the Conservatives in 2010 to form an alliance they justifiably declared to be in the national interest.

I’d argue that worked a good deal better in many ways than since the Tories took full control two years ago and have since stumbled through the farce of the EU referendum and now this election,

Coalitions are however a fact of life in many other countries and, whether chaotic or not, are likely to remain the norm in the future.

Looking at the astonishing levels of support for the two main parties on Thursday – 43 per cent for the Tories and 40 per cent for Labour – that’s something we should get used to here as well.

And, naturally, should we ever reform the anti-democratic first-past-the-post system it is almost inconceivable that either would gain an overall majority.

For obvious reasons, I get why both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn would have much preferred a clear-cut result either way.

But is our attempt at democracy harmed by Thursday’s outcome? I’d argue the opposite.

Ideally, we should have open and healthy debate.

A fair few Tories, whilst seeking overall power, viewed the very real prospect of a huge majority with mixed feelings.

The main victory on Thursday was that we retained a credible opposition able to provide checks and balances in the new parliament.

Otherwise it’s the wins and losses have been personal, rather than unduly affecting either main party or the electorate.

Jeremy Corbyn has undoubtedly strengthened his own power base within the Labour Party, something that will be greeted with very mixed feelings among many of his parliamentary colleagues and former Labour heavyweights.

He will now, presumably, fight on for the foreseeable future.

Theresa May, on the other hand, has seen her authority diminished. I give her credit to making the decision to carry on rather than becoming a cowardly Cameron and falling on her sword.

But surely, it’s only a matter of time before Tory knives come out and do their bit.

They will seek to create the impression that May was very largely responsible for such a disappointing result rather than the party’s policies.

It’s very difficult to see her leading her party into the next election, whether that is in 2022 or even in a few short months.

In the meantime, comes the thorny subject of the Brexit negotiations and we can explode another myth.

For, just as the EU would have taken no more notice of May had she secured a big mandate, she holds the same cards on the European stage now.

Interesting months and years undoubtedly lie ahead.

Maybe it’s time to embrace what looks on paper to be a confused picture and just get on with it……

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