Good on Damian McBride – making the case for coalition government

damian+mcbrideI’ve met Damian McBride only once, in February this year. Two things struck me.

First, how much healthier (and happier) he looked than he did in 2008 when his role in a dirty tricks campaign against the Tories was exposed. He was only 34 when that furore flared, yet in pictures from the time he looked at least a decade older.

Secondly, he is seriously smart. A career civil servant promoted to Head of Communications at the Treasury he retains a deeply impressive knowledge of the knottiest tax policies. It makes his downfall all the more poignant: all that potential and intelligence sacrificed in pursuit of a doltish wheeze to spread lies online about your political enemies’ private lives.

Damian is now publishing his account of the Blair-Brown years, Power Trip: A Decade of Policy, Plots and Spin. Expect it to be brilliantly written and as unsparing of his own conduct as it is of others’, a sharp reminder of quite how destructive the New Labour years were of good governance.

The polls currently tell us the public prefers single party government to coalitions. Before the election the polls showed the public wanted a coalition. Which simply shows that the government of the day tends to be unpopular with the public.

But at least within Coalition the disputes between the governing parties are (generally) out in the open. In single party government, at least as practised by New Labour, people turned in on themselves, plotting, feuding. Which leads me to the conclusion, to misquote a famous Liberal: Coalition is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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7 Comments

  • Are you seriously telling us there is no plotting and feuding in the coalition that is damaging cohesion? Tell that to Cable and Farron, or Gove and May.

  • Or the Blair-Brown axis was a Coalition in all but name?

  • Matt (Bristol) 20th Sep '13 - 2:05pm

    We could also point to the downfall of the Australian Labour Party which does seem as much to do with obvious leadership feuding amounting to an outright civil war as it does with the economy, stupid.

    But in the case of the British Labour Party, there is an irony in that the original aim of Blair and Mandelson’s (and to a lesser extent, Bronw’s) heavy usage of spin was to try and keep a diciplined control on communication in the service of projecting party unity, to dispel the perception that their party was riven with infighting. They perfected and indeed idolised the weapon/tool and then turned it on themselves.

    The public hate feuding, yes, but they also hate the sense that their politicians are being told what to say, or not saying what they really think.

    The problem with coalition we still have to overcome is that from a UK perspective, your poliiticians might (possibly) be more overt about when they disagree with each other, and they might (possibly) tell you what they really think or really want to do, but they won’t be able to do it without others’ consent; what happens then when a coalition breaks up and all partners blame each other? Won’t we then have the infighting and feuding which it seems the voters hate?

    There is as yet no UK precedent for how you dissolve a peacetime coalition without an almighty, damaging row. The Lloyd George post-war coalition? Party splits. The Ramsay Macdonald coalition? Party splits and the assimilation of the remnants into the dominant partner (the Tories). the Unionist coalition of the 1890s? peaceful, quite assimilation into the Tories (in effect the coalition never ended). Answers on a postcard.

  • At least with single party government, we have the chance of a good clearout, every few years, in contrast to the astonishing sense of entitlement to be in government, which is being displayed by the current Liberal Democrats in the coalition.

  • Matthew Huntbach 20th Sep '13 - 4:51pm


    The polls currently tell us the public prefers single party government to coalitions.

    Er, yes, but if we had a single party in government now, which would it be? The Conservative Party.

    The Conservative Party won the most votes in 2010. So those who advocate we should have distortional representation so that the party with the most votes wins over half the seats even if got much less than half the votes are, in effect, saying what they want right now is a purely Conservative government.

    Well, I can see why right-wing Conservative Party supporters might say that. However, a lot of the people saying “I prefer single party government to coalitions” are saying that using the argument that they have been put off coalitions by seeing the Liberal Democrats abandon Liberal Democrat policy and support Conservative Party policy. So what they are saying is that because they don’t like the way the government we have now is so right-wing Conservative, they would prefer to have an even more right-wing Conservative government in place. Or because they don’t like the way the Liberal Democrats seem to be “propping up the Conservatives” they’d like to see the Conservatives propped up even more.

    I think this is really illogical, but I also blame the Liberal Democrat leadership for handling the whole situation so badly that the people who take this position can’t see how illogical it is. People really do seem to believe that when Mr Clegg says he is “in government” that means he could control it all, could implement all the Liberal Democrat manifesto, but just chose not to.

  • The message should always be that ‘single party government’ is no such thing in reality.

    Any party, be it Labour or Conservative or even Lib Dem, that wins enough votes to gain a parliamentary majority is – inevitably – a coalition. The difference when it’s a single party is that it’s a covert coalition where the voters have no control or influence over which faction is dominant. That is the result of personalities, in-fighting and, yes, dirty tactics. In short, key decisions are made in the proverbial ‘smoke-filled rooms’. Supporters of the status quo naturally stand this point on its head in true Orwellian fashion.

    The difficulty for the Conservatives is that their long-standing internal coalition is now unravelling with the rise of UKIP. The tragedy of the Lib Dems is that Clegg has not understood the covert coalition within his own party but has rammed through a factional agenda that is ripping the party apart.

  • only those with a fanatical hatred of the Liberals , could continue to compare them to the right of the Tory Party. Yes, they have gritted teeth and supported some policies which anger its own membership but in return have obtained agreement on the four major planks of their last manifesto.That is coalition politics , which those of us with experience have had to contend with on local councils. The difference is that the leadership did not obtain full agreement even with the parliamentary party?Whereas we in local govt. debated these issues within group prior to agreement where it varied from the basic initial agreement

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