Wednesday, 12 May 2010

A Liberal Conservative Dawn

It's not the magnitude of our problems that concerns me the most. It's the smallness of our politics. America's faced big problems before. But today, our leaders in Washington seem incapable of working together in a practical, common sense way. Politics has become so bitter and partisan, so gummed up by money and influence, that we can't tackle the big problems that demand solutions. And that's what we have to change first. We have to change our politics, and come together around our common interests and concerns as Americans. (Barak Obahma, Speech, 2007)

So now David Cameron is Prime Minister, it will be interesting to see what happens with the coalition. For the sake of the United Kingdom, I hope it works and they tackle common interests and concerns rather than scoring partisan points.

Reading Barak Obama's "Audacity to Hope" recently, I was struck by the distinction which he makes between those politicians who want to win arguments, and those who want to solve problems. Obama notes that often the paradigm for political confrontation is that of the law court, where winning arguments is more important, but that in politics, solving problems is far better.

"I wish the country had fewer lawyers and more engineers. Lawyers win arguments, engineers solve problems."

If the Liberals and Conservatives see this coalition as an opportunity for a broader range of views, so that they can combine their greater expertise to solve problems, rather than win arguments, then it has a good chance of success. Political parties are, after all, coalitions with a range of views, which is why people can speak, for example, of the "right wing" or "left wing" or "centre" of a political party. When it comes to voting in elections, the boundaries are clear cut - Liberal, Conservative, Labour - but when it comes to being in Government, I suspect the boundaries may be a good deal more fuzzy.

There is an economic battle to be fought and won to get the country on its feet. Perhaps a better model for looking at coalitions would not be the Lib/Lab pact, but the 1940s Wartime Government, which had Winston Churchill, Clement Attlee, Lord Beaverbrook, Gwilym Lloyd-George, Ernest Bevin, Harold Macmillan, Antony Eden among its members.

It is notable also that Ernest Bevin (Labour) successfully achieved mobilization of Britain's workforce and became one of the most significant members of Churchill's war cabinet. Sometimes coalitions can bring to the fore effective people who would otherwise have languished on opposition benches.

Is an economic crisis facing Britain enough to make a cohesive coalition Government? It may not have the heady excitement in fighting a war, but it is perhaps time for politicians to set aside Party differences, and start to look at solving problems, rather than winning arguments. It is also a lesson which Jersey would also do well to reflect upon.

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