Does architecture explain our problem with coalitions?

A more representative House?
In yesterday's paper there was a report of a poll saying that in the face of another no-overall-majority election, over 60% of respondents would prefer a proportional representation system. (Where were they when we voted on it?)

Yet many European countries manage quite happily with coalition after coalition. Why do we find them so difficult to deal with? My suspicion is it's a matter of architecture. Specifically, the psychological impact of the layout of the House of Commons.

Most parliaments are laid out in a curve, but by putting the two biggest parties directly facing each other, there is a requirement that we don't consider what would arguably be the only coalition that could genuinely argue that it had popular support - a Conservative/Labour coalition.

I know at this point supporters of both parties are probably falling to the floor and frothing at the mouth, but in many respects the parties aren't hugely distant, and a compromise between the two would ensure that we got through the maximum number of policies that had public support. Of course the negotiations would be painful - but politicians have to do something for their wages.

Whether or not it makes sense, I suspect we don't consider such a coalition - I haven't even heard it mentioned as a possibility - because of the seating plan of the House. And that isn't really a good enough reason.


  1. Architecture does indeed affect the mindset of the people working in it. Many years ago when the world was young (OK, it was about 1991) I was a science reporter covering the re-branding of the Natural History Museum in London by image guru Wally Olins.

    I had known the NHM, man and boy, and it was evident to me that the staff was split up into a large number of small groups, each with their own culture, and suspicion of the others, and of any outside interference.

    Olins' remarks to me were revealing - it's all to do with the building, he said, a large gothic pile designed by Waterhouse. Olins had found much the same mindset on his last job, re-doing the branding for the Prudential in Holborn - which is another Victorian pile designed by - you're way ahead of me - Waterhouse.

    Q. E., and, moreover, D.

  2. One of your better political thoughts for some time if I may say; my only improvement would be to restrict the number of political parties at an election to 2 on the grounds that each major party is a coalition of its own left and right wings with the majority of each being somewhere near the middle. This would avoid any possible suggestion of proportional representation.
    Now I'll go and find that stubby pencil and practice how to draw a cross again.


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