There has been a lot going on around us. In the UK, we had an election that resulted in a ‘hung parliament’, with no single party having a clear majority. After a few days of negotiating and power-broking, we now have a formal coalition government for the first time in 65 years. In the past, I would have been very supportive of the idea of this kind of coalition. Most UK voters are, broadly, somewhere in the centre, with two party groupings taking those to the left of centre and one taking those broadly to the right. Take the left wing side of the right wing party and the right wing side of the left parties and you would always have a clear majority with broadly similar views. There is a view, that I supported for many years, that this kind of compromise centrist government would be good for the country, as it has been for other countries such as Germany.
However, during the Obama election, when there was much talk of ‘the new politics’ and getting away from the conflict of the Republican/Democrat battle. I read an article (and I wish now that I had noted the author’s name) that said that the last thing that the writer wanted was for those opposing the government to join in a concensus. They went on to say that the job of an ‘Opposition’ to the government is to oppose and challenge those with the power, not let them get comfortable. I hadn’t thought about the idea like that, but it struck a chord with me.
Political competition is like economic competition. It keeps ideas alive and forces those that want the results of success (money in the case of business and power and often money in the case of politics too) to have to fight to justify and defend their actions. Business leaders are very fond of saying how much they love and welcome competition. I doubt that any of them means this and many of the most successful companies pursue very anti-competitive behaviour, whether that means trying to use their power to lock out competition or using cartels to stop the operation of competitive markets. Politicians are no different (maybe there should be a Monopolies/anti-trust organisation, organised by businesses to look at governments, in the same way that governments have those organisations to look at businesses?)
However, there is something to be said for the ‘dialectic’ tradition that was passed down to us in the UK from Ancient Greece via Hegel and Kant in Gernany, and which is seen throughout our British society, from our parliamentary verbal battles to our adversarial legal system (and some say to our soccer and other sports!).
I tend to be in the camp of Churchill who said that “it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried”. The same applies to capitalism, too, I think.