The Politics of Coalition

One of the publications I listed in an earlier post has now been published.  My chapter on ‘The Politics of Coalition’ has appeared in Nicholas Allen and John Bartle (eds), Britain at the Polls 2010, published by Sage.  I see it has already been drawn on by Martin Kettle in an article in today’s Guardian, in which he writes:

“Most of the reasons for forming the coalition in the first place still hold good, however. That is because the Tory-Lib Dem coalition was not fundamentally based on policy or ideology, in spite of the best efforts of some its friends and foes to pretend otherwise. In reality, as the political scientist Philip Norton (who is also a Conservative peer) argues in a useful essay in the newly published Britain at the Polls 2010 collection, political and personality factors played extremely important roles in the formation of the coalition too. And these factors are undimmed.

The Lib Dems joined the coalition partly because of their desire for office, partly because the Tories hustled them, partly because both parties wanted to marginalise the Tory right and partly, as one Lib Dem peer put it this week, out of old-fashioned patriotism because of the perceived state of the national finances. Personalities and styles mattered, too. Cameron and Clegg got on. Brown was difficult. Most of the chemistry had little to do with policy or ideology and a lot to do with circumstances and characters. As long as the coalition keeps winning votes and getting its programme, this will continue. Labour’s attacks on the Lib Dems help. By pushing the Lib Dems into a corner, they close off any alternatives. The coalition would be more vulnerable if Labour were smarter and gave the Lib Dems more exit routes.”


About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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19 Responses to The Politics of Coalition

  1. Carl.H says:

    “out of old-fashioned patriotism because of the perceived state of the national finances”.

    Well that can`t be true because they stated publicly they didn`t know things were so bad until in Office.

    “Cameron and Clegg got on.”

    A psychopath will often choose a neurotic as partner and vice versa.

    “and gave the Lib Dems more exit routes.”

    The Lib-Dems have one, say goodbye Nick !

    • The Duke of Waltham says:

      Regarding finances, I think this has more to do with the beating the pound and British bonds would receive if the country were to end up without a stable government. I remember hearing the scenarios at the time and they weren’t very good.

      On a completely unrelated note: is there any particular reason this blog has no “log in” link? I find it rather strange that going to the WordPress main page is a prerequisite for commenting here through my account.

  2. franksummers3ba says:

    Lord Norton,
    Is the rumor true that nefarious parties show the Duchess of Cornwall on mysterious flyers saying “Let them go to Harvard”! If so then things may be getting tougher than I thought:
    “Undergraduate tuition at Harvard will increase 3.5 percent to $33,696 for academic year 2009 – 2010. Need based scholarship aid is expected to grow to a record $147 million, an 18 percent increase over what was planned for the current academic year. The total package (tuition, plus room, board and student services fee) will be $48,868, a 3.5 percent increase over last year”. That is 30,920.06 pounds folks…

    • The Duke of Waltham says:

      Did this rumour circulate before or after the royal couple’s Rolls Royce was attacked on Regent Street yesterday evening?

      • franksummers3ba says:

        Dear King pretending to be Duke,
        You may have noticed my tendency in humor is towrds th edgy. I have been near or involved with sinking ships, firefights, riots, epidemics and the like and so feel free to make a few jokes about bad times. You are exactly right in surmising that the car incident is relevant — it is in fact the reason occasioning my remark. The serious side is that tensions are high and Louis and Marie Antoinette were chewed up by a propaganda machine long before they were beheaded. Managing a response to all apsects of this situation would seem to be in the interests of quite a few people. I think the riots, the economic crisis, Lords Reform, the coming wedding and Olympics and other matters are seen separately but can all form part of the same reality in ways that can gather huge momentum in unexpected directions.

  3. Croft says:

    “The coalition would be more vulnerable if Labour were smarter and gave the Lib Dems more exit routes.”

    I’m not sure I buy this line. I can’t see a scenario in which the LDs could leave the coalition that wouldn’t damage them further. The ‘success’ of the governments economic plans will largely decide the next election. If the LDs leave they they are likely to be dammed by both those who see things as a success and those who see it as a failure.

    • Carl.H says:

      I don`t agree, I think if they lose Clegg as leader and promote someone who voted against the tuition fee rise the party would gain credibility, provided they denounced the coalition of course.

      The tories particularly Cameron are using the LD`s as a shield, they are becoming the whipping boys, Cable and Clegg will never recover. We can already see that , most of the Country, who are against recent events, blame an incredibly small part of Government the Lib Dems. If you check out social networking and see the amount of people stating quite clearly they`ll never vote Lib-Dem again you`ll see that the Party has already lost credibility and that`s before things really start hurting as they will next year.

      Change the leader, admit mistakes were made because of naivety and salvage all you can. Things will get far worse come the new year.

      • Croft says:


        I don’t think you’ve taken due note of the lessons of history – divided parties are punished much more than parties whose polices are disliked (by many) but are broadly united.

        More LDs voted for the rise than against (27-v-21) so the idea you can just change the leader and move on marginalising those who voted for the proposal is not credible. Many of those voting for it actually believe they have won a graduate tax in all but name and have not just voted for it due to the need to back VC/the Coalition.

        “If you check out social networking and see the amount of people stating quite clearly they`ll never vote Lib-Dem again ”

        1) SN is not representative
        2) It assumes they even voted in the first place which on the basis of the average age of those most active on SN is probably not true.
        3) It assume that having probably not voted they will actually vote next time – I’m doubtful about that.
        4) Assumes that all LD voters supported them wholly or significantly due to their fees policy. Polling doesn’t suggest this was the case.
        4) The split among <25s was actually pretty even among the parties and polling post election has actually seen a slight rise in the Tory vote and a big rise in Labour vote.

      • Lord Norton says:

        Carl.H and Croft: In the chapter, I do discuss how the Liberal Democrats are between a rock and a hard place….

  4. Carl.H says:

    I think you underestimate SN or perhaps don`t use it. I`ll give you a few snippets from the Liberal Democrats Facebook discussion thread.

    You`ll note these are all Pre-Tuition fee. The membership appear disillusioned with the party in general, the fact 27 went with the policy should not matter at grass roots.

    The fact, and it is that, that the party is already divided means something has to done and a salvage operation put into place. I firmly believe if it is done at this present time more can be salvaged than at a later stage. This Government will not last the course and the Tory part will ensure the Lib-Dems take much of the blame. Salvaging what is left of the party is a better option imho.

    • Croft says:

      The LD fb thread is only representative of those who contribute to it – nothing more or less. The idea that the grassroots can replace the leader and the largest group of MPs and almost all senior ministers (or require them all to recant) without destroying the party is absurd. If they try to leave the coalition then Cameron will almost certainly look for an opportunity to call an election which on present polling would see the LDs down to 10 MPs and with the almost certain penalty for party civil you are encouraging may see them drop even lower. LD MPs can read the polling and are not going to do anything to risk the government falling!

      • Carl.H says:

        The Lib-Dem party is only representative of those that contribute to it too. 😉

        Possibly you maybe correct in that the MP`s will not recant, maybe I`m too altruistic in not thinking just of myself. I believe in honesty and integrity and always think that will have better effect on people who will then trust you more.

  5. Carl.H says:

    “In the chapter, I do discuss how the Liberal Democrats are between a rock and a hard place….”

    Skimmed the first Chapter and it appears all pre-general election 2010 though a good history of the Labour years.

  6. Carl.H says:

    People wanted the young to have an interest in politics, they have now. This is how they think:

  7. franksummers3ba says:

    I am posting this to test if it will appear on the thread. I had another comment completely disappear into the ether…

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