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The British political system worked beautifully

May I just note for the record how satisfying a narrative the formation of the new British coalition government has turned out to be. For four days, the politicians negotiated, leaving the press and the public in genuine suspense; even this afternoon the outcome was uncertain. Throughout the process, the full panoply of human virtues and vices was on display, from pride and ambition to humility and cynicism, along with some real drama. Politicians who had fought bitterly against one another a few days earlier sat down and did deals. Prime Minister Gordon Brown made a brief, bitter bid to stay on in his job then resigned with impressive grace. So rapid are the turnarounds in British politics that Number Ten Downing Street is already newly-installed Prime Minister David Cameron’s family home, and moving vans are already on their way.

Two good things have come out of what could have been a disastrous, drawn-out political crisis. The first is that, contrary to widespread belief, the British political system works beautifully: Although Britain has not been run by a coalition or minority government since 1974, everybody knew the rules of the game, everybody followed them, and everybody appeared willing to sacrifice some personal and political gains for the sake of the greater good. Rule of law is an elegant thing, when it works.

The second good thing is that responsibility for Britain’s current economic crisis will now fall not just to the Tories on the center-right but also to the Liberal Democrats, who speak for a part of what might still be called “the Left.” If difficult economic decisions have to be made -- and Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, has himself has spoken of “swingeing cuts” -- then at least they will have the imprint of more than one party and, thus, possibly more legitimacy and wider public acceptance. I am not saying this will definitely be the case: The parties could squabble, the coalition could fall apart, Cameron could be a disaster. But there is, at least, a chance he could succeed -- a chance that seemed far slimmer only four days ago.

By Anne Applebaum  | May 11, 2010; 5:33 PM ET
Categories:  Applebaum  | Tags:  Anne Applebaum  
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How about that? A right-leaning party is able to compromise and negotiate with a left-leaning party for the good of the country and political/economic stability. A pity that the same kind of civility and patriotism is not possible here.

Posted by: gposner | May 11, 2010 7:26 PM | Report abuse

At least Ms. Applebaum had the good sense not to insult us again with her puerile and mistaken view that the Lib-Dems are the British equivalent of the moronic Tea Party.

The idea of compromise is one of many that is unlikely to occur to the single-celled invertebrates known as tea-baggers.

Posted by: WhatHeSaid | May 11, 2010 8:19 PM | Report abuse

The success of coalition Governments depends not only on debate but on accepting responsibility. I am sure with positive approach this new experiment will be successful. Ultimately it will be success of great democracy in England.

Posted by: raviniphadkar | May 11, 2010 10:59 PM | Report abuse

The Conservative party in UK is the best proof of what utter complete lunatics Republicans in US are and how right-wing (LYING) US Media is that it does not point out the facts that I am going to point out below which clearly prove that Republicans in US are lunatics

To be exact Conservative parties in UK, Germany, Canada, etc. are best proves of how right-wing the Democrats in US are, which means how they govern for benefit of Big pharma, Big insurance, Big banks (aka Wall Street gang), and as a result what Utter complete Lunatics Republicans in US are whom are even to the right of the Democrats.

After all consider the FACT that the conservative party in UK, that is Margaret Thatchers (Iron Lady) party, is "four and square" for their Universal nationalized (aka Socialized) single payer health care system, which you can read about here:

And quoting from which page the conservative party in UK states:
"Over three years ago David Cameron spelled out his priorities in three letters – NHS. As the party of the NHS, we will never change the idea at the heart of our NHS – that healthcare in this country is free at the point of use and available to everyone based on need, not ability to pay."

Do you get it? The conservative party in UK, that is Margaret Thatchers party is 100% for their FREE, free for the Taxes that they pay, health care for all. What the Republicans in US call "Socialism.." or "Communism...."!

More here:

Posted by: RealNews1 | May 12, 2010 12:42 AM | Report abuse

Raviniphadkar, you are confusing England with the United Kingdom (UK = England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland).

David Cameron is the new Prime Minister of the UK, not just England. In fact virtually all his votes were English. Only 15% of the Scots voted from him.

We now have a situation where he has virtually no mandate in Scotland. If he makes huge budget cuts across the UK, we could see a further rise in Scottish calls for independence from the UK.

Posted by: Dudesitan | May 12, 2010 2:33 AM | Report abuse

BTW since there is no written UK constitution, the type of political change we witnessed last night @ No.10 was all improvised - while the Queen rendered legitimacy of the Monarch....and civil servants stood by to render advise to new PM.

Parliamentray governance is principally based on seats won and nature of coalition agreed upon. We still don't now who will take charge of the important portfolios including EU relations.

The taste of (English) pudding is going to be diffiucult for Lib-Dems and especially for Clegg with his Dutch mother, as aguide.

Posted by: hariknaidu | May 12, 2010 5:26 AM | Report abuse

Yeah it was a beautiful example of the British political system working beautifully. Oh, except for the fact that under constitutional precedent Clegg should have gone to Labour in the first instance to try to form a coalition, and only spoken to the Tories if/when those negotiations failed. So in fact it was the opposite to what the (uncodified) Constitution calls for. Oh well. Maybe not quite so beautiful after all.

Posted by: paulsullivan1 | May 12, 2010 6:44 AM | Report abuse

The only issue with this "working together" business between the Lib Dems and Conservatives is that it is likely that there will be a lot of gridlock, especially because the Conservatives only muster a majority with the Lib Dems and their ideological differences will often lead to lots and lots of disagreements. Actually, there are more Members of Parliament who are center-left like the Lib Dems and Labour which will make it interesting to see how much power the Conservatives will even have in the coalition. I expect to see another election VERY soon.

Posted by: packsfan18 | May 12, 2010 11:24 AM | Report abuse

Here is what people don't understand about the British political parties. The ideas of Liberal and Conservative have different definitions in the US than in the rest of the world.

There are two main factions in the Liberal Democrats. Social Liberals and Market Liberals. Market liberals (which Clegg is) are Classical Liberals. In America they would be considered fiscal conservatives. There is even a libertarian minority within the Liberal Democrats. Which makes more sense when you realized libertarianism is considered to be extreme liberalism in the classical sense.

These two factions exist because the Liberal Democrats were the result of the merger between the Liberal Party (classical liberalism) and the Social Democrats (moderate breakaways from the Labour Party). As such they tend to be individulists rather than collectivists. This sets them apart from Labour and makes them very different in philosophy than American Democrats.

Analogies between the British parties and the American parties are hard to make as they have entirely different makeups. Have the socially liberal Republicans and the fiscally conservative Democrats form a party and you might get something close to the Liberal Democrats.

Posted by: BradG | May 12, 2010 1:33 PM | Report abuse

BradG's analysis of the British LibDems is excellent. However, you can also divide the British Conservatives into two factions as well, although in doing that we get closer to similar dichotomy in the US Republican party.

Like Reagan, Thatcher was a market Conservative and had many advocates for free market policies in her party. These include her prodigies David Cameron and his close followers.

Yet there has always been a long tradition of compassionate Conservatives (cynically called 'wets' by opponents in their party) who campaign for social justice. It was the so-called 'wets' that eventually that brought down Mrs Thatcher in 1990.

The irony in all this is that there have never been neo-conservatives in Britain with the notable exception of Tony Blair who supported Bush in the invasion of Iraq. Blair of course being a member of the socialist British Labour Party!

Posted by: Dudesitan | May 12, 2010 2:52 PM | Report abuse

When I read the article headline I just about choked. If you think that 'The British political system worked beautifully' then you just don't have a clue. Remember that the United Kingdom consists of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In Scotland 85% of those who exercised their right to vote did so for political parties other than the Tories (Conservatives). I've posted an article 'UK General Election 2010: In Scotland the Politics of Fear Prevail' to my blog 'The 'Sanitization' of Scottish History' (

Posted by: michaelfollon | May 12, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse


"BTW since there is no written UK constitution, the type of political change we witnessed last night @ No.10 was all improvised"

With this you betray a gross misunderstanding of the British Constitution. Yes, there is a British Constitution. It is not bound-up in one document plus numerous Supreme Court decisions as in the US. Rather it is based on law, custom, tradition, and precedent where the rules of the game are clear to all. What happened in the UK recently was not "improvised", but followed a well established, well understood, and well accepted constitutional process. It worked exquisitely.

Posted by: eyendall2 | May 13, 2010 2:24 AM | Report abuse

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