Editor's Own / Opinion

The Politics of Compromise

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Erna Solberg, prime minister of Norway since 2013, has been re-elected, but her Conservative party won just 48/169 seats in parliament. Now she must share power to achieve a majority. Coalitions are part of governmental life in Scandinavia, with long-term stability giving proof of their success…


Alexander Brett

On Monday the prime minister of Norway, Erna Solberg, was returned to power. But with her Conservative Party (Høyre) receiving just forty eight seats in the 169-seat chamber, seven seats fewer than her Labour Party (AP) rival, Jonas Gahr Støre, she has been forced to share power to achieve an overall majority.

Unlike Britain’s somewhat unexpected coalition of 2010, however, where it was reported that Gordon Brown was so unprepared entering negotiations that he did sums on the back of a paper napkin, there will be no hastily arranged backroom deals over the next few weeks in Oslo. Without a majority government since 1961, Norwegians were fully prepared for a coalition, indeed expecting one, and parties forged their alliances long before the vote, meaning that Norwegians essentially cast their vote for a “block” rather than a specific party. As fans of Borgen will know, it is the same situation every election for voters in Denmark (without a majority government since 1909), and, as Angela Merkel’s recent difficulties show, in Germany and the Netherlands.


Image result for norsk valg 2017 resultat


How the Norwegian parliament looks now (Solberg’s Conservatives in blue, Støre’s Labour in red)


While the previous coalition in Britain, that of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats from 2010 to 2015, sticks in our minds most clearly, it is easy to forget with the eternal cult of Churchill that his wartime government was in fact acting, albeit through an emergency, in coalition. The circumstances the nation faced clearly required it, but I imagine that there are few who would dispute the fact that his government was the most stable in modern British history, guiding us to ultimate victory against Fascism and laying the foundations of our modern welfare state. The coalition of 2010 to 2015, too was one of the most stable periods of government Britain has seen in a decade, something we now appreciate further after two years of consistently flagging Conservative prime ministers.

Both times then, we were lucky. The coalition of 2010 was Liberal to its core, and hugely attentive to voters of both parties. I imagine, however, there will be few pining for a Conservative-UKIP coalition, and this is where the all-encompassing coalitions of Scandinavia fall apart. Polling at 15 per cent of the vote last Monday, just above UKIP’s result in 2015, under proportional representation Norway’s far right Nationalist Progress Party (FrP) was awarded twenty seven seats in parliament, compared to the sole seat UKIP managed in 2015. To form a strong executive, then, Solberg has been forced to include the Nationalists in her government, understandably infuriating many of her liberal voters. And with the populist wave rolling ever faster across Europe, there is no way around this for other nations. Italy and Germany both look set to include them in their elections, based on polling for upcoming elections.


“Polling at 15 per cent of the vote last Monday, just above UKIP’s result in 2015, under proportional representation Norway’s far right Nationalist Progress Party (FrP) was awarded twenty seven seats in parliament, compared to the sole seat UKIP managed in 2015.”


What many people remember as a key moment in the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition is Nick Clegg’s total abandonment of his manifesto pledge to scrap tuition fees (and the doctored YouTube clip that followed his apology), instead siding with the Conservatives who have since increased tuition by two-thirds. As a result, the Liberal Democrats were wiped out in 2015, Nick Clegg was forced to resign, and 58 per cent of his voters believed their party had abandoned its core principles. Surely there was no better way to demonstrate that compromise is inherent to coalition governments, and that it so often leads to an irrecoverable fall from grace for the weaker parties.

But compromise doesn’t have to be shunned. Rather, if both parties fail to see eye-to-eye by sticking to their key policies, compromising on ideology leads to more competent, thought-through and legally binding legislation in the long-run. And coalitions introduce debate otherwise so easily discarded. The Liberal Democrat proposal for a referendum on an Alternative Vote system is an obvious example: although rejected, it introduced an important debate that would have otherwise been thrown away by the Conservatives acting on their own.

Norway is by now well-used to coalition governments, and its constant political stability gives proof of their success. But, while we may be living under a “coalition” currently, the Conservatives rely on DUP votes to get things done, I think we can all agree that the DUP is doing little to slow down Theresa May’s bull-in-a-china-shop attitude. Perhaps a viable sharing of power, through a well-founded coalition would. The British people voted to leave the European Union, but a compromise on its terms that fits the will of a majority would go far.


 

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