A lot has been written over the last week about our new coalition government. It is rightly seen as a break from recent British political tradition and a novelty worthy of significant comment. I would contend however that we have been experiencing coalition governments in Britain for the last 40 years, within the existing two big parties.
Take a look at the Conservative Party. It is a broad church. You can choose your favourite labels to characterise the various groupings or ideological schools of thought; wets, drys, Thatcherites, One Nation Tories, Eurosceptics, Europhiles, the list goes on. The same is true of the Labour Party; New Labour, Old Labour, the left, the right, Blairites, modernisers, Militant, Bennites, Socialists, Social Democrats, etc.
The great strength of the “old” parties is this diversity of views and ideas which have sustained them and allowed them to renew both in office and in opposition. What has kept the Conservative Party together throughout its history is a shared belief in the values of freedom, choice, responsibility and the power of the individual over that of the state. What gives me hope about the new formal coalition in Britain is that the two partners share these values and a belief that putting the people in charge of their lives is the key to good government.
The new coalition has made a good start and has the chance of succeeding if it remembers that what unites it is much greater than that which divides it. This idea has kept the two big parties more or less together throughout their histories despite many great challenges and predictions of splits or divisions.