The British may well be about the discover the wonders of coalition government and the dance that precedes it. Many European countries have known it for years. Britain however still has a fraying form of government that assumes everyone is either black or white, red or blue, Whig or Tory, government or opposition.
Now however the wonders of cabinet/government formation and the preceding phase – known conveniently and logically if strangely in Dutch as “information” are about to be discovered in the UK. Brown might lose yet stay in power or Cameron may fail to acquire majority and yet claim victory. Suddenly the British monarch may find herself in a position well known to her Dutch Oranje-Nassau cousins and yet one that is very embarrassing for the Windsor family.
In Holland it is the Queen who decides – on the basis of advice from her counsel – who should first set about “informing” a government (setting the rules for who negotiates with whom under the guidance of the “informator”) and then she decides on the individual who should be the “formator”, coordinating the formation of the government.
I have always regarded it as a very civilised procedure – even though republicans oppose the power thus vested in the monarch to influence the democratic process. The essence of proportional representation is that the parties have decided on their manifesto and policies in advance. But they also have to indicate the extent to which they are willing to negotiate and compromise. This provides a more wysiwyg manifesto than the British system. If you are in opposition – and certainly as a liberal centre party – in the British system you can basically claim what you like – no one is there to check your claims. In Holland people know whether and how the various parties can cooperate. The large right-wing anti-immigration PVV party – not a neo-nazi party like the BNP – put itself out of the running to form a coalition because it wanted to ban the headscarf in public buildings, schools etc (as they do in Turkey). Such a ban could not count on any support from other parties, so even when they were the largest party (as in Almere) they soon dropped out of the coalition race.