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Cohabitation, English Style

Can a marriage of convenience between Tories and Lib Dems endure for five years?

May 24, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 34 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
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They are now wondering if the coalition will hold together through the five year life of the Parliament. That seems more rather than less likely. For one thing, all of the political parties are broke: The Tories had to scrounge for money to get through the last week of the campaign. Labour has yet to pick a leader or to decide just what it stands for. More important, now that the Lib Dems have their feet under thos e ministerial desks, are being driven in ministerial cars, and are banking ministerial salaries (MPs are paid around $100,000, ministers of state get that plus an additional $120,000), they are not going to part ways with the Tories over anything as inconsequential as a principle, or even two. Less cynically, the Lib Dems have to demonstrate that coalition governments can serve the national interest if they are to persuade voters to vote “yes” on the proposed electoral reform that would make coalition government a fact of life forevermore in Britain, and assure them a major slice of political power. 

There were two losers in this election. The obvious one was Labour, which lost about one-quarter of its 347 seats and its 13-year hold on power. It will be led temporarily—if she has her way permanently—by Harriet Harman, Britain’s version of Nancy Pelosi. The current favorite is outgoing foreign secretary David Miliband, a center-left contender who among other things has worked to tighten the European embargo on goods made and grown on the West Bank and labeled “Made in Israel.” He will fight it out with Ed Balls, the Brown ally and very left Harvard-trained economist whose claim to fame is the tightening of central control of the education system when he was in charge of schools, and eking out a 100-vote margin in his constituency in the recent election. Other contenders will undoubtedly emerge, most notably Ed Miliband, David’s younger (by five years) and abler brother.

The other loser is the United States, whose only significant friend in the new cabinet is Defense Secretary Liam Fox, a man who understands the threat of radical Islam and is fully committed to combating it. The vaguely anti-American Tory foreign secretary, William Hague, joins David Cameron in opposing “slavish” support of U.S. foreign policy, which we of course have never demanded. Nick Clegg opposed our intervention in Iraq, shares all the European left’s antipathy to America’s dominant role in world affairs, and wants to soak the rich. He should very much enjoy his meetings with Barack Obama.


Irwin M. Stelzer, a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard, is director of -economic policy studies at the Hudson Institute and a columnist for the Sunday Times (London).



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