They rise and fall in unison and are individually and collectively responsible for the policy which the cabinet initiates and they carry out. Their strength is like that of an iron rod.
Practically, every ministry, under a multiple-party system, is a coalition ministry, a combination of heterogeneous political elements with nothing common in them by way of principle. Even if the combining parties of a multiple-party system may differ slightly in their views, their differences are often insisted upon with a vigour and intransigence unknown to most countries where the two-party system prevails. As no one party under a multiple-party system is sufficiently representative of the nation as a whole to form a government without drawing upon other sections of opinion and influence, the leaders of such groups simply compromise to come to a working agreement.
Such a ministry is uncertain of its existence from day to day. They continue to work together so long as they can be made to agree. Their strength is like that of an iron chain with many links. As soon as one link loosens the whole chain disintegrates. Similarly, when one combining group falls out, the government falls.
In France, for example, between 1870 and 1934, there were a total of 88 Ministries, with an average life of less than nine months. During the same period Britain had 18 Ministries, lasting an average of three and a half years. The natural result is that “government in France is little more than a succession of starts and stops, of rapid, sudden and bewildering shifts of policy with no end of confusion and waste.” When the life of the government is uncertain, short and precarious coherent policy becomes more difficult to obtain, and political responsibility remains more ambiguous than a two-party regime in which strong responsible government is obtainable. Nor is there any possibility of venturing an ambitious plan. But a multi-party system does not necessarily lead to governmental instability.
A number of countries have shown governmental stability for the most part as Switzerland, the Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands, Israel and Germany. France and Italy provide the best examples and warnings of governmental instability. Dual-party system secures a representative government in the real sense. It provides the only method by which the electors, at the time of election, directly choose the government. Both the parties have their well-defined programmes and a direct appeal is made to the electorate on that basis. The electors choose between the programmes and decide about the party which is to come to power.
Two parties, thus, bring the electorate to a point where they are faced by a simple alternative. One of the two parties will win a majority and become responsible for the enactment of policies; the other will be the Opposition; both homogeneous with their clearly defined policies which they had put before the electorate at the time of the General Election and which they sustain while nursing their constituencies. The multiple groups have no party organisation. Sometimes they have no organisation outside the legislature, and they have no programme to lay before the electors. The electors vote for personalities and not for programmes. They do not even know who will form the government.
Government formed by a single majority party, on the other hand; is a government by consent and criticism, and it truly reflects the spirit of political democracy. It is the consent of the people which returned the majority enabling it to form the government and hold the reins of power. The party in minority forms the Opposition of which the majority is always conscious. This consciousness makes the Opposition most orderly and responsible in its relations to the party in power.
The criticism of the government is more sober than it is under the group system. The leaders of both the parties are accommodating and they try to adjust on crucial issues. One of the writers has said that the Prime Minister in Britain knows the leader of the Opposition better than his wife. It is an organised Opposition whose function is to criticize and vote against the ministerial party with a view to ousting it from office. When there are many groups, there is no organised Opposition. It is all a question of manipulation; even members of the cabinet are actuated by various more or less opportunistic motives.
“Even if they were personally minded to hang firmly together, the groups behind them are full of dissentients who make dependable support impossible, and indeed may shift position or even dissolve completely almost overnight.” Laski, while summing up the advantages of the two-party system, says: “It is the only method by which the people can at the electoral period directly choose its government. It enables the government to drive its policy to the statute book.
It makes known and intelligible the results of its failure. It brings an alternative government into immediate being.”