Coalition film review: Dissecting one of the most dramatic weeks in British politics

By Roshan Chandy

This is going to be hard and difficult work. A coalition will throw up all sorts of challenges. But I believe together we can provide that strong and stable government that our country needs based on those values.

David cameron, may 11 2010

DAVID Cameron was sworn in as Prime Minister off the back of a historic coalition deal with Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats – marking one of the most tumultuous weeks in British politics for decades.

The Lib Dems were riven with division; some of the more right-leaning like leader Clegg were willing to hear the Tories out, others were more left wing sympathies such as Vince Cable couldn’t bear the thought of joining forces with the party they had spent decades fighting.

This terrific film Coalition charts the forming of the first coalition government in British history since 1974 over seven days in 2010. We begin at the UK’s first ever leader’s debate. Each of the politicians couldn’t be more different in appearance.

The debate goes historically well for Clegg. He manages to convince the British public that their choice in the General Election is not “between two old parties”, but a Third Way in the centre ground. I imagine Tony Blair would have loved Clegg’s rhetoric about bridging the gap between Left and Right. It’s certainly a prospect that needs to be looked into.

For the first time in nearly 70 years, the public are faced with the prospect of a Lib Dem as Prime Minister. No one would believe it. I don’t think bland Nick Clegg would believe it had he not won the debates. It’s a pity then that the Lib Dems’ number of seats went down coming polling day.

But it wasn’t over for Clegg and the Libbies. The General Election left no party with the ability to command a majority. For the first time since 1974, there was a Hung Parliament meaning either a minority government or a coalition would need to be formed.

Britain isn’t used to coalitions. That’s something Europe is very attuned to with Germany and Italy, for example, successively commanding coalition governments across their history. But no. British politics tends to be first past the post and of majority parties. For the first time in decades, it wouldn’t be either a fully Labour or Tory Government.

Gordon Brown was the first to try and make a pact with the Lib Dems. His rhetoric was that the Liberals and Labour are ideologically similar being both Centre Left parties. But Brown was a grumpy groucher and a socially inept one at that. Nick Clegg couldn’t stand the idea of working with such an impossible bull of a man. And so he passed on Brown’s offer.

The possibility of a Tory-Lib Dem coalition was a more challenging one. The Lib Dems had always been fierce opponents of the Tories on Europe, crime and schools. But now the Tories had a leader with the socially liberal credentials of David Cameron. A Europhile of a man who backs same-sex marriage and abortion and wants to soften the Tories’ toughness on crime.

The Conservatives were the party that commanded the largest number of seats, but not enough to form a government alone. Commentators had predicted this was Cameron’s election. That he would be the man to topple 13 years of Labour Government and sweep the Tories back to power for the first time since 1997. Not entirely inapt as that was exactly what happened – just not in the way Cameron wanted.

So who was to blame for Labour’s defeat? A substantial bulk of blame can be laid at Gordon Brown’s feet. He was the man blinded by his power-hungry ambition to become Prime Minister even when he was not psychologically or emotionally cut out for it. He was the man who squandered the chance to call an early general election he probably would have won. And he was the man who allowed government to grow to such an extent that the national debt doubled.

It was clearly time for a Conservative government. Whenever government grows too big, that’s when the Tories step in. It happened in 1951 under Churchill following the post-war Attlee Labour government. It happened in 1979 under Thatcher following the disastrous winter of discontent Callaghan Labour government. And it happened in 2010 under a Con-Lib Dem coalition with Cameron as Prime Minister and Nick Clegg as Deputy Prime Minister.

This was the government that made the state the smallest it’s ever been. The government that made savage cuts to housing benefits and NHS funding. And shifted the educational model in favour of that of 60s Eton. All reforms which, in my opinion, helped the country enormously and levelled up the country’s economy in the wake of the financial crisis.

Coalition is an excellent film. An almost Private Eye satire of three men at the top through 7 of the most exciting days ever in British politics. It’s the story of how one man’s blind ambition to cling on to power led to his downfall and how another’s centrist tendencies worked in his party’s favour when coming to government. And how another, previously the weak third pawn, provided instrumental in becoming the Kingmaker as to who would lead the next government.

Featured Image: Channel 4

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