That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

What price ambition? Lessons from the coalition

It’s interesting keeping up a blog about both Canadian and UK politics (and photos of my dinner to boot) as I come to see (or maybe imagine) all kinds of ways one scenario can inform the other. The UK’s coalition government should be mandatory reading for Canadian parties looking for insights as to how it might work, and I think the recent history of Canada’s Liberal Party needs to be studied by the UK’s Labour Party, as they get about finding a new leader, identity, and ambition.

Labour’s new leadership will be announced later in the week, so for now, to the state of the coalition. If Canada one day gets a Liberal/NDP government (let’s fantasize that it doesn’t require Bloc support, please?), how might the governing parties relate to each other? What fortunes for the NDP, as the presumed junior partner? Experiencing simultaneously the dizzying highs of unprecedented influence over government action, and the nerve-wracking lows of intrapartisan discord, as party puritans condemn any perceived sell-out, I suppose? That’s the case for the Liberal Democrats, anyway.

The Lib Dems are currently holding their annual party conference. A chance to review the year that’s been, and to set the stage for that which is coming. As the first conference since coalition, I had feared it would feature a lot more wailing and gnashing of teeth, but so far the need to appear not on the edge of a collective nervous breakdown seems to be holding. Nick Clegg is making the case for party unity; faith that coalition is not a soul-selling betrayal; that the Conservatives may be big and bad but partnership is a virtue; and that the Conservative agenda is being moderated by the progressive impact of the Lib Dems in coalition.

A few of Clegg’s quotes from the weekend party conference:

The Liberal Democrats and Conservatives are, and always will be, separate parties with distinct histories and different futures. But for this parliament we work together to fix the problems we face and put the country on a better path. That is the right government for now.


People have got used to us being outsiders against every government that comes along. Maybe we have got used to it ourselves. But the door to change we want was opened, for the first time in most of our lifetimes. Imagine if we had turned away. How could we ever have asked the voters to take us seriously again?


[We won’t] suffer some mysterious cross-contamination in Whitehall which means that we will suddenly warp into something different. You can share power with others and still retain your values.

There is lots of commentary that NDP folks are hopefully taking notes on. Visit here and here and here for a few views.

UPDATE: One can always speak too soon – there is some emerging discord at the Lib Dem conference after all. The party has voted against its leadership’s cooperation on the government’s new free schools policy. It was a non-binding vote, and won’t actually force Clegg to back away from supporting the policy (already passed anyhow), but it does come as an embarrassment for him.

Clegg’s main conference speech will take place later today – curious whether he’ll acknowledge what’s just happened, or what his reception will be. Stay tuned folks.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, UK, , , ,

4 Responses

  1. I am increasingly open to including the BQ in any potential coalition. I used to live in Gilles Duceppe’s riding, and as a hardcore federalist, hated him and the BQ with a passion, but now that i live in Toronto, i’ve warmed up to the BQ. That’s mostly due to the reality that they’ve been the most responsible party in the HofC of late, the only ones at times who’ve stood up for parliament and against the game-playing the Cons and Libs and Dips have been engaged in.

    There’s been so much animosity between the Libs and NDP, i find it hard to imagine they’d ever consider a coalition. It’s such a frustrating situation.

  2. polygonic says:

    I’d like a more conciliary tone in CDN politics as well, but don’t lose hope on what the LPC and NDP can do together tomorrow. Before the UK coalition was hammered out, Nick Clegg had called David Cameron a “con” and a “fraud” while Cameron thought of Clegg as a “joke.” That was personal stuff – and now they’re playing best of friends (too much so, it seems for many)

    BQ involvement is very tricky. Coalitions are coming to power around the world, and Canadians will surely get used to the idea soon. But Harper can continue to smear a partnership involving “separatists” as uniquely unholy, no matter whether the BQ were a formal partner or whether they simply agree support through confidence measures. A simple minority LPC/NDP gov’t might be weaker in numbers, but less vulnerable to Con smears and potential public outrage.

  3. Meant to ask you – is there a Labour equivalent of ConservativeHome and Liberal Conspiracy?

  4. polygonic says:

    As far as I know, Liberal Conspiracy is non-partisan left, so speaks Labourese and Libdemese equally fluently. You might want to check out the Fabian Society and its blog for associated Labour views. They’re at http://www.fabians.org.uk (I should put this on the blog roll now you’ve reminded me!)

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