After newly elected National Democratic Party representative Lorna Smith left the opposition and formed a government with the Virgin Islands Party, the term “coalition” was tossed around frequently.
But in part because Ms. Smith acted without the NDP’s blessing, the arrangement doesn’t constitute a coalition in the traditional sense of the word, according to United Kingdom overseas territories expert Dr. Peter Clegg.
Dr. Clegg, head of the School of Social Sciences at the University of the West of England, said that forming a true coalition government typically would require negotiations about the policy platforms of multiple parties resulting in a new combined platform showing the way forward.
But in this case, that didn’t happen.
“There’s no particular such document listing what the policy priorities might be under the new government,” Dr. Clegg told the Beacon.
Typically, he said, a coalition platform would be created in large part by combining parties’ election manifestos.
But in the VI, only one party — the VIP — produced a manifesto before this year’s election. And Dr. Clegg said the 140-page document — which was circulated the day before Polling Day — may not be very suitable for use in forming a coalition anyway.
“Overall, [it is] important that the VIP produced this [manifesto], because it does provide some reference point for past performance and future priorities. But many of the priorities would have cross-party support and/or [are] vaguely enough phrased to give the VIP the best opportunity to claim future success,” he wrote the Beacon in an email. “In other words, some detail is missing to really put flesh on the bones of many of the commitments.”
In the United Kingdom political system — after which the VI system is designed — each party typically publishes a clear manifesto articulating what it would do in government, Dr. Clegg explained.
Then, if multiple parties wish to form a coalition government, they would negotiate based on the manifestos and produce a document stating shared principles under which to move forward.
That’s what happened between 2010 and 2015, when UK leaders formed a coalition government with Conservative David Cameron as prime minister and Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg as deputy prime minister. It was the UK’s first coalition government since 1945.
Dr. Clegg added, however, that in the UK it can often be difficult for political parties to work together because their policy terms and manifestos are typically so distant.
In this regard, he added, vague manifestos could actually give VI parties an advantage in negotiating a partnership.
“If you have a system and a political process whereby you don’t stipulate your political views and your policy priorities, in some ways that makes it easier for politicians from different parties to work together, because they don’t have manifestos,” Dr. Clegg said. “You can argue that a lack of manifestos does allow for slightly more pragmatic approaches to be taken when it comes to working with other parties and other politicians.”
Dr. Clegg added that it will be interesting to see how the government and opposition parties cooperate under the new arrangement, and he said the results will be a measure of the territory’s political maturity.