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Interview: 'Spectator' Editor Says U.K. Coalition Not Likely To Last Long

British Prime Minister David Cameron (left) and new Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg wave in front of Downing Street.
British Prime Minister David Cameron (left) and new Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg wave in front of Downing Street.
Britain's general election this month was the first in more than 30 years to produce a parliament where no party has an outright majority. After days of negotiations, David Cameron's center-right Conservatives struck a deal with the party that came third, the Liberal Democrats -- paving the way for the country's first coalition government since World War II. But will it last? Fraser Nelson, the editor of Britain's weekly political journal "The Spectator," is doubtful. He spoke to RFE/RL's Ron Synovitz.

RFE/RL: You have written that the U.K.'s new governing coalition is doomed and that the much-heralded "new politics" that is being sold to the British public is "a squalid triumph of expediency over principle." Why are you so pessimistic about the future of the coalition?

Fraser Nelson:
I'm pessimistic about the coalition because of British history, really. We have never had a hung parliament which has lasted more than two years in the last 100 years. We have an adversarial system. We like our politicians to face up to each other -- to fight each other. We like our parliament to be a battle of ideas.

I am not so sure that the tribal and the intellectual tensions within the House of Commons will subside now. I think that the arguments are still there, and I do think that the coalition will break up. Whether it is in a year or two years time, I don't know. But I would be amazed if it manages to last the whole five years.

Fraser Nelson
RFE/RL: Setting aside your view about its prospects, is this coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats a revolutionary development in British politics?

I can't see really see there being a fundamental shift in British political culture. We haven't had a coalition in 65 years in Britain, so it is certainly novel. What I don't think you can say is that there is any appetite for this coalition. We had an opinion poll last weekend showing that the majority of voters wanted David Cameron to govern alone rather than go into coalition. So I do think there will be a lot of voters who will feel that they were misled during the election campaign.

RFE/RL: Is the new government likely to change the course of British foreign policy? What changes, if any, do you foresee in U.K. policy toward Afghanistan?

I don't think the Liberal Democrat-Conservative alliance will change British foreign policy much in Afghanistan. I think that Britain is heading for the exits in Afghanistan. It wants a graceful exit, as opposed to Iraq where we had what, I would say, was a disgraceful exit. It is just simply the case that the government and the country have lost the appetite to keep putting troops into the frontline of the war on terror.

RFE/RL: How will the competing views within the coalition affect Britain's policies toward the European Union?

Where there is a major difference between the Tories (Conservatives) and the Liberal Democrats is on the question of the European Union. The Conservatives would want to move away from Europe, whereas the Liberal Democrats want Britain to move into Europe. Now this is the one issue the Lib Dems feel genuinely passionate about. They are Europhiles. They like the idea of a strong European Union. So if this comes up, it will be a major test of the strength of the coalition. Personally, I can't see the coalition surviving that test.

RFE/RL: What about relations with Russia?

When it comes to Russia, it depends what Russia does. If Russia tries to embark on some energy warfare -- turning off the gas like it tried with Ukraine -- then I think you are more likely to see an EU response than you are to see a distinctly British response. We are the country with the biggest deficit in the whole of the continent. We do not have the finance or the appetite for a foreign policy adventure, and I think these fiscal imperatives will, perhaps, mute Britain's voice a little on the world stage until such time as we manage to get rid of the deficit.

RFE/RL: Cameron has already met his first pre-election promise by announcing that all ministers in his Lib-Con coalition will take a five-year pay freeze and a 5 percent pay cut. Does that bode well for him keeping other promises?

I think this language of a 5 percent pay cut is a bit of spin because every one of them has had a massive pay rise. But it does bode well for David Cameron keeping his promises.