David Cameron and George Osborne are the real division in the coalition (Bloomberg/ Getty Images)
Coherence, according to one definition in the OED, is a "harmonious connexion of the several parts, so that the whole ‘hangs together'". It is a concept that seems alien to the Government. And not because it is a coalition. Sure, any coalition government will cope with differences of opinion. And this one is no exception, as the recent rather ugly campaign to change the voting system in Britain clearly demonstrated. It is no surprise that the Prime Minister and his Deputy disagree over the extent to which Britain should surrender further sovereignty to the EU, or at least that is the case if the Prime Minister means what he says about preventing further transfers from Westminster to Brussels. Nor is it any surprise that the coalition partners disagree about policy towards immigration, or the NHS.
Not for me to say whether those differences are worth bearing, and in some cases ignoring, in order to be in government. The fact is that a coalition has been cobbled together and is functioning, providing an answer to the question put by Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof when confronted with his daughter's decision to marry a non-Jew. "A bird may love a fish, but where would they build a home together?" The answer seems to be, "In the House of Commons." Indeed, it is arguable that the surprisingly strong performance of the Conservatives in the May 5 elections proves that he has developed a formula that works, one that enabled him to win the referendum on alternative voting, and to make some gains while his coalition partner was destroyed and Labour suffered a huge defeat in Scotland.
Why tinker with a winning formula? Answer, because a formula for winning a series of local elections is no more certain a formula for successfully governing and sweeping the field in a general election, than a formula that results in losses in local elections is a formula for a defeat in a general election. In the end, a government must govern, and given the circumstances in which Britain now finds itself it must govern effectively — produce results that move the country out of the economic intensive care unit at least into the rehab section.
Because differences between the coalition partners attract so much media attention, there is a danger that the results of the May 5 election will continue to obscure the far more important fact that the government is groaning under the burden of its incoherence, not created by differences between the parties of the coalition, not even by differences between the wings of the Tory Party, but between the team of Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the one side, and...well, the team of Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer on the other. The result is an incoherence, what Karl Marx might have called internal contradictions, serious enough that neither the Prime Minister's vaunted presentational skills, nor the Chancellor's ostentatious display of confidence and his insistence that he has no Plan B, can conceal the fact that the government so often faces in opposite directions at the same time that it cannot move towards a solution to Britain's ills.
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