Editorial: Coalition Politics

The Lib Dems have come up with a seemingly perfect alibi for the notorious betrayal of their promise to abolish the tuition fees that the previous Labour government had imposed:  that they were in a coalition government and this meant that they had to give up some of their promised policies in order to reach an accommodation with their partners in government.

Now that coalition governments seem to be the order of the day this is a get-out-of-jail card that all parties can play. And seemed to have been preparing to do so.  At least this is what was suggested by  the increasing extravagance of their promises as the election campaign went on. They seemed to know they would have a ready-made excuse for not honouring them.

Using the need to compromise with coalition partners as an alibi, however, is not one that will hold up. Most election promises cannot be honoured even if there is a single party government with a decent majority. That’s because they are promises to make capitalism work in a way that it simply cannot be made to.

An adequately funded NHS and affordable housing are examples. Such reforms cost money, money that can only come in the end, in however roundabout a way, from profits. But profits are the life-blood of the capitalist economic system. Which is why they have to be given priority over meeting people’s needs adequately. And why governments always end up according this priority, despite what they may have promised.

The only way a government could, for instance, get more affordable houses built (apart, that is, by giving people more money to spend,  but nobody would believe any party that promised that) would be to subsidise this. Houses are built by profit-seeking companies and these are not going to invest in building houses to sell to people who cannot afford to buy them. Left to themselves, they invest in building houses for people  who can afford them; these days, upmarket  houses and flats for the better off, whether bought to live in, rent out or leave empty as a speculative financial asset.

The money to subsidise affordable housing – or an adequate health service or reducing inequality or eliminating child poverty or any of the other laudable promises we heard – would have to come either out of taxation, which will ultimately fall on profits, or from borrowing from the rich, which will incur legally-binding interest charges which will have to be paid out of taxation.

Any government which reduced take-home profits in this way to promote a better life for people would provoke an economic slowdown. Which would create other problems for people. It’s a lose-lose situation but one that is built-in to capitalism.

Coalition politics won’t end this. All it will do is provide parties with another specious excuse for not honouring promises which can’t be honoured anyway. Just wait and see.

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