Coalition-Building As Party Steeering

Steve Teles writes in with a sharp take on the Liberal/Conservative coalition in the U.K.:

I think there’s another way to think about the coalition, which is not to think of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats as internally coherent parties. Rather, it’s better to think of both of them as internally heterogeneous. The Conservatives have a more liberal wing, which Cameron and his clique are part of. The LibDems have a more socially democratic (and public-service-delivery) wing, and a more liberal (in the European sense) wing, which Clegg, Laws, and Cable are part of. The coalition makes a certain amount of strategic sense if you think of both governing cadres as wanting to have power, but also to govern from their part of their own party coalition. Cameron gets to use the coalition as an excuse not to do the things that his more conservative party members want, and Clegg gets a similar excuse with his more social democratic members. So while the coalition doesn’t make as much sense from the point of view of the median of each party, it does make sense given that the leadership of each party is closer to the ideological center than their party median.

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Certainly I think the general view in the late-1990s was that Tony Blair in many ways regretted the fact that he won such a big majority in 1997 — what he really wanted was to be “forced” into a coalition with the Liberal Democrats precisely because, per what Teles writes, that would have strengthened his hand vis-à-vis the Labour left.