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.
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