LAST Friday afternoon, BBC Radio 4 had an intriguing play set in No 10 Downing Street at a time that a general election had produced a hung parliament between the Conservative and Labour parties, both of which were courting the Liberal Democrats to form a coalition. The timing was apposite - Labour's Glasgow East victory had just been announced and the latest Populus poll had suggested that the current state of public opinion - 39 per cent Tories, 29 Labour, 18 LibDem - might result in an overall majority of only two in the House of Commons. The poll also showed that the number of people confident of an overall Conservative majority had fallen from 57 to 50 per cent.

Well, we shall see. But in the meantime it may be worth asking why British politicians always shy away from the idea of a coalition. They work very well in many countries but, although Edward Heath tried in 1974, Britain has not had one since 1929-31 and quite a lot has changed since then. Yet only last week Kenneth Clarke said: “I think that in the middle of an acute national crisis a hung Parliament would be one of the biggest disasters we could suffer.” And he added: “It would be a bigger danger than a Labour victory.” How very odd. Surely the time when a coalition would be most useful is precisely “in the middle of an acute national crisis”?


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