Though few anticipated the agreement, it is not difficult to understand why David Cameron and Nick Clegg should have made a bargain to share power. By forming a coalition Cameron secured protection from his mutinous right wing, while Clegg became the pivotal player in British politics. What is more surprising is the degree of unity the government has so far exhibited. In Britain we think of coalition government as non-ideological, formed from necessity and living by compromise. When the coalition came to power there were many who welcomed it as a refreshing departure from tribal politics. Others feared that a government made up of parties with such different histories and cultures would lack clear direction - decisions would be fudged, policies too cautious. In fact the predominant feature of the coalition has been its consistent radicalism. At a time of economic uncertainty, deep cuts in public spending can only be an enormous gamble. Despite confident assertions by George Osborne, no one can really know what the result will be. Cameron - commonly seen as a Conservative in a tradition that distrusts ideas in politics - has embarked on one of the boldest experiments in British political history. Even more remarkably, Clegg - the leader of a party that has long supported government intervention as a force for progress - has signed up to a programme that promises an unprecedented roll-back of the state.
LRB 21 October 2010 | PDF Download