Coalition Whispers

Two People Separated By A Common Government

Nine months from now, we will be asked the following question: “Do you want the United Kingdom to adopt the ‘alternative vote’ system instead of the current ‘first-past-the-post’ system for electing Members of Parliament to the House of Commons?” Nick Clegg will, in what is becoming his habitual manner, claim this as a great victory for his party with an uncomfortable mix of bashfulness and pugnacity. This was a shtick which stood him in poor stead for his debut at Prime Minister’s Questions this week, which hadn’t even ended before Tory spokesmen were insisting that the Liberal Democrat leader was not speaking for the Coalition when he declared the Iraq War illegal (and probably in anything else he said, were they to be pressed). Liberal Democrats everywhere must be heartened by the news that their Cabinet moles do not speak for the Coalition in those moments when they disagree with the Tory leadership.

In fairness, it is not just Liberal Democrats who are being shot down – if Vince Cable must still be smarting after summary and rapid dismissal of his graduate tax proposal, Liam Fox can be no less wounded by Cameroon insistence that his comments to the Telegraph this week that the UK can no longer defend itself against all threats were bobbins. Only Cameron – who this week seemed to suggest on his visit to Barack Obama that in 1940 Britain was the junior partner to a USA which had not yet entered the war – is allowed to make mistakes without condemnation being delivered swiftly and severely.

The criticism instead comes from outside the Cameroon Coalition. At the Coffee House, David Blackburn underplays today’s reports that David Davis has been calling the government the ‘Brokeback Coalition’; Blackburn’s probably right to do so on one level, since one senses a sixth-form joke about Cameron and Clegg somewhere in this. On another, though, it’s the sort of soundbite – a ‘from Stalin to Mr Bean’ – which can gain wider traction. More interesting, and yet along the same lines, is Chris Patten’s suggestion in a Straight Talk interview this weekend that the government risks seeming ‘breathless’. Patten is ideologically no die-hard enemy of Cameron’s project; his criticism is constructive, but hints that the competing messages, and messy initiatives, which have begun to characterise what had at first seemed a solid start by the government risk coming to define it.

The Telegraph profiles Francis Maude this morning, suggesting that, in his position at the centre of the Cameroon networks, he resembles a Tory Mandelson. If this were true, one might detect a greater intellectual centre of gravity in the government. The Coalition is in a rush to dismantle things – Labour’s legacy, the state, what it perceives to be civil rights infringements – but no coherence is emerging out of the babble. If this continues, then nine months from now we may answer that question in a radically different context.


3 thoughts on “Coalition Whispers

  1. Hey Dan,

    Besides his (percieved) gaff I actually thought Nick Cleggs first PMQ’s went quite well. Sure, the media tried to develop some akward, unconvincing narrative but most people I know who watched it (which covers quite a range of political views) seemed to think he did well. If anything he had it too easy given that Jack Straw was sooo terrible (I was actually suprised). To be honest, if Clegg had been up against someone like Harmon he would have had a much more difficult time.

    I am worried about the Labour party. This government and the drastic changes it wants to bring in (some good, some not so…) needs a strong opposition and I’m wondering if labour can actually deliver it (this is why I’ve been quite critical of Labour in my recent blogs). The leadership candidates are the most dissapointing list they could have had. There’s a shocking lack of a sincere recognition of where they went wrong. I find it odd that it’s the likes of James Purnell writing the most accurate thoughts on Labours problems and how it could best move forward.

    As for the Brokeback Jibe, I’m guessing the government are quite pleased that’s what the media’s focusing on. The other comments Davis made are far more damaging. The brokeback comment is, as you say, merely a sixth form joke. So what if it catches on? Unlike the brown/bean comment it imply’s no weakness, it’s simply silly and basically harmless to the coalition.

    I am worried that the Tory backbenchers are much better at fighting for their concessions than the Lib Dems. Now they’re in power the Libs need to stand their corner and not let themselves be pushed around by those more experienced. That’s the test, maybe. It’s interesting…


  2. Nick says:

    “The Coalition is in a rush to dismantle things… but no coherence is emerging out of the babble”

    As someone charged with doing the dismantling, this rang all too unfortunately true. With time, coherence may emerge but at the moment I wish they would slow down just a little bit to think about what they erect in place of the “Big State”.

    • danhartland says:

      The cynic might suggest that the answer to your implied question is ‘nothing’. The current trick is to bluster about the ‘Big Society’ and hope we don’t notice the lacunae for a while yet.

      Not that I’d want to tempt you into political commentary!

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