In the five days following the General Election, the British media were put into a position they were entirely unaccustomed to. An indeterminate election result meant that the pages of the newspapers were filled with speculation and an urgency that deals should be done and a government formed as quickly as possible.
As many people pointed out at the time, the rush towards a quick solution to the apparent "problem" is at odds with the norm in many European countries where negotiation talks can go on for several weeks. This is, of course, in the interests of democracy and I can only imagine how much better the coalition agreement may have been if more time had been given over to policy detail rather than appeasing the press's need for news. In honesty, five days really isn't enough time to hammer out a comprehensive and workable programme for government between parties who have only days previously been campaigning against each other.
However, Belgium is taking this to extremes. An indecisive election in June has led to a series of talks and negotiations which are proving equally inconclusive. This has effectively led to Belgium being without a government for last seven months and, with no end in sight to the political stalemate between the various parties, a famous Belgian actor - Benoit Poelvoorde - has announced he will not be shaving until a government is formed and has urged other Belgian men to "keep [their] beards until Belgium rises again".
If successful, Poelvoorde's protest could be a modern-day equivalent of the angry residents of Viterbo who in 1270, following the Vatican's inability to select a new Pope in the two years following the death of Clement IV, physically locked up the electors until they decided upon a candidate. Then again, there does not appear to be a huge number of Belgians suddenly ditching their razors.
This rather amusing story does make a telling point, however. Whereas much of the UK media was predicting instability in the event of a coalition government based on a compromised policy programme and a collaborative approach towards political administration, Belgium's troubles stem from the fact that their own parties are incapable of such compromise or collaboration. Perhaps all they need is for Nick Clegg to deliver his standard sermon on "the new politics"...?