I recall when I first heard about this programme being commissioned. In fact, I wrote an article on this very site about it. Having now watched it, my view on that hasn’t really been significantly altered – it was a bad idea.
This was reflected in the quality of the final piece, which wasn’t very good, really. I mean, as a piece of a drama. And before you jump to conclusions that I’m saying this out of political bias, I actually thought it was remarkably pro-Lib Dem. Perhaps not very pro-Clegg on occasions, but definitely pro-Lib Dem. The nation seemed to embrace the party after the first debate, only for it to lose five seats overall in the end. The pressure laid on by the civil service and the markets made life even more difficult. Labour didn’t seem particularly keen, Brown aside. All of this is a very Lib Dem take on the process. So I was happy about it from that perspective. Who knows, maybe it might even do the party some political good.
But as drama, the whole thing didn’t really work. For a start – and I realise that Graham had to write the thing for a lay audience – having all of the characters speak in such a boring, non-political, clearly Basil Exposition style was draining on the whole thing. Again, going back to my Clegg: the Movie article: I think this was part of the design flaw in the whole concept more than anything else. Once you started having to write in characters talking about exit poll numbers, Graham must have known he was in trouble.
The Brown character didn’t have enough pathos. The Cameron character was poorly thought out. The Clegg character hovered between doofus and political genius, often in the same scene, making you wonder what we were supposed to think of him. The Peter Mandelson character was far and away the most interesting and fleshed out, which is just weird on so many levels.
The best part of the whole thing was at least the intended climax – the Paddy Ashdown speech at the Lib Dem parliamentary party meeting discussing whether or not to go into coalition with the Tories. It is apparently, and I’m getting this from decent sources, quite close to the speech Paddy actually gave on the occasion. This is probably why it works as a dramatic segment: it felt real to life. Which is also why it contrasted so heavily with the rest of the programme.
“George, I’m worried about the legitimacy of a Conservative government that only has 306 seats while the Labour seat tally has held up remarkably well when you compare it to Foot’s final 209 figure in 1983.”
“Dave, I’m worried about how history will judge us pre-Scottish independence referendum and pre-Boris’ embarrassing tenure as Prime Minister.”
“History is one hell of a bitch, O-babe. Get Clegg on the phone.”
In closing, the worst and yet most accurate criticism I can level at Coalition is, if you’re not obsessed with the Westminster bubble and/or a card carrying Liberal Democrat, it was kind of a waste of your Saturday evening. I’m both and I wish I’d done something else with my time.