A common argument for the Conservative-Liberal coalition back in May, 2010 was that any alternative government would be hopelessly weak and unstable. Oddly, the coalition itself tended to argue both that the country needed a balanced parliament that would represent a broad consensus of opinion, and also that the country needed a strong government that would be able to do what it saw fit. Taken together, this suggested that they wanted sweeping powers to do nothing that would be at all controversial.

Look how that turned out. Another European country that has had some trouble forming a coalition government is Belgium. They took a very different solution, which was not to bother and just to muddle through without really having a government. Duncan Weldon points out that the Belgian economy is doing rather well.

But this is no libertarian fairy tale. Without a strong government, the Belgians have simply not been able to do anything controversial. So they’ve spent the economic crisis under a mildly Keynesian automatic pilot. So dreadful have the policies adopted all around Belgium, and recommended by the European Union from its headquarters in Brussels, been that doing nothing and letting the automatic stabilisers function has been much better.

In many ways this is a comment on the rest of us rather than Belgium. Of course, Belgium is only missing a central government. It is otherwise practically overrun with policy-making institutions, with its three regional and three communal subgovernments and powerful mayors below them. Being closer to the electorate, though, the temptation to rebuild society on one’s very logical plan is reduced.

Similarly, I think we’d be happier watching Labour and Plaid Cymru bickering over the Central Wales Line or whatever than we are.