Sunday, 9 March 2014

The benefits of coalition government

As a German I have always been quite comfortable with coalition government, unlike most people in this country. Indignation about broken electoral promises never resonated with me, given that the main  benefit of coalition government seems to be a need for compromise that often weeds out the nuttier promises made in the heat of the electoral battle.

As the present coalition government edges to its final days in the UK, the 'play fights', as Andrew Rawnsley from The Observer calls them, increase. They are in essence the separation rituals of two partners that need to differentiate themselves from each other whilst at the same time trying to celebrate what they achieved.

Whatever its accomplishments, there is one advantage of coalition government that is rarely discussed. It's the fact that both partners are in a learning experience, coming into direct contact with other opinions and views on how to run the economy (and the country) without having the privilege to reject other perspectives out of hand. In other words, coalition government has a disciplining effect on all partners, forcing them to listen and to learn.

One area which demonstrates this increased capacity to learn under the conditions of a coalition government is taxation. In 2010, the Conservatives were steadfast against increasing the personal tax allowance whilst Lib Dems made it one of their most prominent electoral pledges. Two years into the coalition government and Chancellor George Osborne publicly commented that he wished this had been a Tory pledge all along. The Tory support for the increase of the personal tax allowance became so strong that Lib Dems felt miffed about it and kept pointing out to anybody who wanted to hear it that this was originally their idea.

There may be some disadvantages about lifting more than 5 million people out of tax altogether, mainly relating to the fact that modern societies are based on the contributory principle, for which taxation is the main conduit. But overall, there is now only one party that does not support a further increase in the personal tax allowance, the Labour Party. How Labour politicians square this with their avowed ambition to do good for the lowest paid is beyond me, but it seems that the two coalition partners have got it. Sometimes it may be a good thing if you are forced to share power.

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