Today Belgium will set a new world record for the longest time taken to agree to the formation of a government, surpassing the 249 days it took Iraqi parties to agree the terms of a coalition following their country’s elections last March. With typical Belgian humour, the good burghers of Ghent will be marking the occasion with a festival, ironically titled “Support Our Heroes”. Yet, if Belgium’s ongoing travails are cause only for gallows humour, British observers should avoid the temptation to smirk. For though our own coalition government has been plenty busy in the time that Belgian politicians have spent arguing the toss, the almost indecent haste with which it was formed has been the source of much of its weakness. With hindsight, the five days it took the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats to agree the terms of their marriage of convenience seems ludicrously short. Yet at the time, and in the face of huge pressure to act swiftly and decisively from the Murdoch press and other mainstream media outlets (not to mention the ratings agencies), to David Cameron and Nick Clegg it must have felt like an eternity.
But the speed with which this shotgun wedding was agreed has undoubtedly led to heartache and headaches later. From the Lib Dem u-turn on tuition fees to the ConDem u-turn on forests, principles swiftly abandoned and policy made on the hoof can only erode confidence, not only in this coalition but in the politics of partnership as a whole.