The Grumpy Old Man

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Would You Be a Junior Coalition Partner in Government?

What happens to a small political party who enters a coalition government arrangement with a larger party?

It is interesting to see at first hand what can happen when a hung parliament is elected. A coalition is usually formed with one party (who have the largest number of seats) being supported by one or two other much smaller parties.

Recent elections that took place in the UK (first past the post system) and in Ireland (which operates a single transferable vote system designed to give a more representative parliament) that provide two examples of what can happen.

In an earlier UK General Election, a government was formed between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. At the start of this particular parliament the Liberal Democrats had 56 seats and, as they were in "coalition" with the Conservatives, they also had the position of Deputy Prime Minister plus a few other seats in Cabinet. I do wonder just how much influence they had in this arrangement. I would suspect they were largely unsuccessful in securing the passing of many of their own key policies and in respect of Conservative policies, they probably did little more than water down some of the measures. From news reports, I got the feeling that they were not particularly effectual and were only there to make up the numbers.

In the following General Election with their so-called experience and skill in government there for all to see, they managed the princely total of eight seats. Looked at in a slightly different light, they lost 85 percent of their parliamentary seats. If that's not a pasting I'm not really sure what is!

Another example is what happened in recent Irish general elections. In 2002, two minority parties teamed up with the largest party to form a government. The two minor parties were the Green Party who won six seats and the Progressive Democrats who had eight seats.

In 2007 a similar coalition situation arose and the Green party then had six seats and the Progressive Democrats had two. In both governments the Greens and Progressive Democrats held seats in Cabinet. This was at a time when the Irish economy is growing at some eight percent or more largely driven by a housing construction orgy.

2008 saw the start of the financial crash which hit Ireland particularly hard with banks being rescued by the government or going out of business. House prices collapsed and eventually fell by a nominal 50 percent! (Clearly for this to happen after a housing driven boom, many mortgage holders were well and truly into negative equity).

What the general public found particularly galling, was that the government (and let's face it, they are supposed to be in charge and aware of such problems) seemed surprised, claiming to know nothing at all about these problems until they were hit over the head with them.

In 2011 the voting population had their say when both the Green party and the Progressive Democrats lost all their seats and the major coalition party lost three quarters of theirs.

Now in 2015 the Green party still exists in Ireland, but I'm sure that is only because it is a pan-European operation. The Progressive Democrats folded their tent, disbanded and retired or went back to what they were doing before politics.

It seems the electoral public have a similar view of coalition governments in countries where they are not the norm. (Mind you, coalition governments seem to be the norm in Italy and, by all accounts, they are the next financial basket case in Europe). Thus in countries not accustomed to coalition government the eventual fate of minority partners in such arrangements seems to be the political wilderness.

Particularly in the UK and Ireland with that sort of attrition happening, one wonders why the world any body would want to be a politician and if daft enough to do so, would want to have anything to do with coalition. One can only assume that they have huge delusions of grandeur and self-importance. Although acknowledging that at the end of the day, they risk wipe-out, they believe "it can't happen to us". They just love the thought of power and self-importance.

I suppose it shows that your average politician, whoever they are, lives on a diet of naivety, arrogance and self-importance, infected by the perceived adoration and hero worship of the following they acquire.

Gordon Bennett, do we have to suffer such fools? Unfortunately the answer to that must be yes, because their innate make up persuades them to put themselves in the firing line! I suppose that's democracy at work, as I said earlier it ain't perfect but it's streets ahead of some government systems one hears about from around the world. It may be flawed but, by gum is perhaps the best we've got.