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When GOD spoke to Cameron and Clegg

What we learned from last night’s BBC documentary on the formation of the first peacetime coalition government for almost 80 years is that in times of crisis, the state will always step into the breach and bang heads together.

We’re not talking about any old state here but one that promoted the development of capitalism in the 19th century along with a colonial empire that made Britain the pre-eminent imperial power. A key role of the capitalist state is ensure a continuity of political power. Parliamentary government is essentially the public façade of the state, the mechanism by which it expresses itself, and seeks democratic legitimacy and authority.

Well before the May 6 general election, there was a real probability that Britain was heading for a hung parliament, with no single party able to command a majority. Public disdain for all the major parties was self-evident, especially as they were tip-toeing around the big issue of public spending cuts. The election itself was a fraud because no party was prepared to own up to what it would do if elected.

Senior civil servants under cabinet secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell (aka GOD) began planning for a hung parliament well before the election. In Five days that changed Britain, a documentary about the formation of the coalition by BBC political correspondent Nick Robinson, O’Donnell is frank about his intentions.

He wanted a coalition government with a comprehensive agreement on policy to take office as soon as possible. During the week of the inconclusive election, there were riots on the streets of Athens as Greece’s debt crisis went from bad to worse. Eurozone leaders met at the weekend to work on a bail-out for Greece and to defend the euro. The financial markets were on edge.

O’Donnell told Robinson: “What might have been a minority government wouldn’t have had the strength in parliament to pass the tough measures that were needed to get us through this problem [Britain’s public debt crisis]. So the key issue then was that the markets would really make us pay a price on a Monday morning by selling our debt [government bonds]. And that would have been a real problem for the country.”

O’Donnell thus acknowledges two related issues: global financial markets make and break governments; the role of the state is to help create the conditions through which the markets that finance state borrowing can be appeased by spending cuts. The net result is to sustain the capitalist economic and financial system at all costs. Here the state is true to itself.

Of course, O’Donnell wasn’t the only factor in the emergence of the Lib Dem-Tory coalition. David Cameron seized the opportunity to put “national interest” above party politics with decisive leadership and engineered a coup against his own right wing at the same time. Nick Clegg did the same against his left wing to get into bed with the Tories rather than New Labour. Both men deceived their parties during the negotiations facilitated by O’Donnell’s team, as the documentary shows.

All this makes the coalition government fragile and somewhat unstable at a moment when it tries to impose the largest cuts in public spending ever seen in Britain. Behind the scenes, other areas of the state are preparing for all sorts of eventualities and scenarios in the event that the coalition fails to deliver. That is why fighting the cuts also means taking on the state in a struggle for power itself which would enable us in turn to deal with financial markets. Taking part in the campaign to create People’s Assemblies thus becomes more important than ever.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor
30 July 2010

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Your Say

Loïc says:

To answer Cissie I wonder if it's so true that the UK was so much in danger of not having a PM? I think it's a bit crazy to think a whole country just relays on one simple man.

If that was the case that would also mean that one can make a difference in life and that markets or state aren't all powerful. That would demand obviously a lot of inspiration. That's why I think if one can make a difference how about many people making a difference?

Awtw is already succeeding in opening the debate, depriving the usual power makers to hold it.

amillar says:

I've done a few articles on this very subject, on HubPages, with a lay, slightly humorous slant. If the editor doesn't mind, I'll put a couple of links into this comment box. My best performing hub is Who Are 'the Markets?'. I wrote the other most relevant article to this subject, just after the election, called, "Big Society" and The Markets, and is very relevant to this subject.

I hope no one minds me putting a link to this site from my hub Who Are the Markets. It is after all a quest to find out as much as possible about the vexed subject.

The following are links to my hubs. They are slightly humorous, but the questions are serious:

Cissie says:

The BBC's Five Days That Changed Britain Britain was a must-see. How Britain's ruling class rose to the challenge of an unprecedented situation. It's not often that we get such peeps into the corridors of power. Did you know that there is a secret tunnel that runs from No.10 to Churchill's World War II bunker? Well, it was used during the tense negotiations when the country stood in danger of not having a prime minister in the seat of power. The prog also showed how both Lab and Tory were not prepared for the outcome of the election. But Cameron and Clegg trumped Brown, Balls because New Labour leaders were just not nimble enough to think on their feet. And as Robinson said, Brown was the impediment but after he left, there was no one hungry enough for power with the clout to do the job for New Labour. Outworn thinking and egos stood in their way.

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