One thing’s for certain — this is going to be a rollercoaster ride and a huge leap into the unknown. The last coalition government, in 1974, collapsed within a few months. In contrast to most of the rest of Europe, Britain doesn’t generally go for coalitions, except in wartime.
How long this marriage of convenience between the center-right and center-left will last is anyone’s guess, and another general election could well be held within a few months if the coalition fails to make progress. The Liberals are expected to get up to six cabinet posts out of a possible 22, giving them a staggering degree of power out of all proportion to their 57 seats in Parliament (less than 10 percent of the total), despite their having far more in common with the opposition Labour Party than with the Tories. Keeping this highly unusual coalition together will be a massive challenge for Cameron, and could prove to be a bridge too far.
The new coalition will face formidable challenges, chief among them addressing the huge budget deficit and cutting spiraling public spending. If he is to bring Britain’s finances under control, Cameron will have to implement the kind of Thatcher-style reforms anathema to the Lib-Dems. He will also have to address the major issue of illegal immigration, a huge matter for British voters and another area where there are major differences with the Liberals; Cameron believes in tighter controls, while Clegg has called for a deeply unpopular amnesty. The gulf is also vast between the parties on Europe, national security, defense, and foreign policy, and it is hard to see how the two sides can bridge the divide in these areas.
The main dangers of this arrangement are early paralysis within the new government or the watering down of key policies needed to enable an economic recovery. There is also the threat of the Liberals being part of the cabinet while actively working with the Labour opposition to undermine the Conservative agenda. The omens certainly don’t look good on the coalition front, and Cameron will need all his skills as the youngest prime minister in 200 years to steer his new government and his country through some very rough waters. In doing so, he should stick to core conservative principles and avoid making concessions to the Left. He must also look to Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill as his role models, great figures in British history who rescued their nation at times of great peril.
— Nile Gardiner is the director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation.