Politics

100 Days of Summer

Just good friends.

Once upon a time, accusing a politician of being messianic was thought of as a satirical attack. Tony Blair suffered more than many from the suspicion that his government was driven less by intellectual analysis and more by blind faith. The enthusiasm of many for the Coalition, however, begins to approach the reverence of a mystery religion. It’s reported in the Telegraph today that Cameron and his band of closest advisers prefer the Coalition to a Tory majority. This we have long suspected, but news in James Kirkup’s more detailed piece on the first 100 days of our saviours that Nick Clegg has been wining and dining right-wing Tories is more telling yet. There is a thrill for the new, a vaguely revolting smugness, about the Coalition, a ruling elite given the keys to government in a new and exciting way.

It wants voters, too, to believe that there is something new and fresh about it, but if there is it is only in its potential to secure a new Tory hegemony. The only real means of avoiding that is if Liberal Democrat votes change, and it appears that they may already be doing so. Even as their leaders are slowly co-opted into Tory circles – “We’re united by a common enemy – the civil service,” says one aide in Kirkup’s piece – Liberal Democrat voters will slowly come to see that the priorities of this government are not necessarily their own.

The indefatigable Mehdi Hasan put it well this week: Cameron’s emphasis on benefit fraud (it will be the “first and deepest cut” his government makes) makes only ideological sense; The Economist may applaud a ‘radical Britain’ tackling the defecit further and faster than any other leading nation, but this Coalition is no pragmatic union of counter-balancing instincts. Even where the Coalition can claim the highest moral ground against the Labour government – on civil liberties – they are turning their ire onto the poor, with forced credit checks proposed for benefits claimants.

That this is a divisive government is already clear: where Kirkup sees a brave and bold first 100 days, Hasan sees them as chaotic and embarrassed. But the most important division will be within the Liberal Democrats. Many Lib Dems still hope, messianically, that the Coalition can represent bold ways forward and positive, incremental change. The next Labour leader must be one whom those voters can trust, as their faith turns to apostasy.

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4 thoughts on “100 Days of Summer

  1. Many Lib Dems still hope, messianically, that the Coalition can represent bold ways forward and positive, incremental change.

    I’m not sure that in a global sense they do, or that they ever did, and I note you have no links for that part of your post.

    To the extent that I think the Coalition can be a positive force, it’s not about specific policies, it’s in a hope that it can legitimise the concept of compromise in politics, and encourage voters — and politicians — to be in favour of or against or reserve judgment on policies on a case by case basis, rather than just because they’re government policies. That is, to act like damn grown-ups, instead of acting like working together gives you cooties. I see no particular evidence that any of the Labour leadership candidates are interested in doing that — they seem inclined to hold to their own messianic view, that one party can have The Answers to everything — but I appreciate they’re playing to their base at the moment.

    Put another way, I already know the priorities of the government are not my own; that’s implicit in the concept of a Coalition. If Labour can come up with a policy platform I support, great. But at the moment I’m just hoping they can become a party I can put down as my second preference at the next election.

  2. danhartland says:

    That is, to act like damn grown-ups, instead of acting like working together gives you cooties.

    I don’t really need to provide links when you do it for me, do I? 😛 The practice of coalitions is not the practice of acting like grown-ups; it is the practice of a means of political decision-making which involves bluffing and positioning, triangulating, hedging, and making out-right u-turns. Which reminds me very much of the old politics.

    At the next election, should they remain a distinct political party, Liberal Democrats will not be saying ‘don’t vote for us too much, because Coalitions are the best way of governing’; they will be saying, AV or no, ‘vote for us loads, vote for us big, because we are right.’ That’s what political parties do, they make their case. Afterwards, if they need to horse-trade, they will do so. Framing coalition government as ‘politics growing up’ is precisely the sort of warm-glowy thinking I’m referring to.

    No government shares the priorities of any of its voters in full; but there are sections of the Liberal Democrat party whose priorities are diametrically opposed to the emerging priorities of this current government. It isn’t immature politics to point this out, any more than it is immature for others in the party to tolerate, and even embrace, fellow-travelling.

  3. Dan Milburn says:

    Tony Blair suffered more than many from the suspicion that his government was driven less by intellectual analysis and more by blind faith.

    This could be because he admitted that this was the case – ‘I only know what I believe’, etc.

    Framing coalition government as ‘politics growing up’ is precisely the sort of warm-glowy thinking I’m referring to.

    When the alternative is Labour’s position, that they would rather be in opposition (and also I suspect rather have had a solely Tory government – this is certainly what your position appears to be) than enter any coalition, then yes, it can certainly seem that way.

    there are sections of the Liberal Democrat party whose priorities are diametrically opposed to the emerging priorities of this current government

    And guess what, there were sections of the Labour party whose priorities were diametrically opposed to many of the priorities of the last government. I won’t bother reeling off the list of civil liberties issues and foreign policy blunders here.

    At least with coalition politics we know why we’re not getting what we thought we’d voted for. In this respect, it is more honest, and yes, more grown up. All democratic politics involves compromise. I think it’s helpful to know who’s compromising on what, and what they might be getting in return.

  4. danhartland says:

    This could be because he admitted that this was the case – ‘I only know what I believe’, etc.

    Well, yes. That was rather my point. 😛

    And guess what, there were sections of the Labour party whose priorities were diametrically opposed to many of the priorities of the last government.

    And, again, rather my point. 😛 The old saw that we’ve always had coalitions in government is no less true for all its repetition. Niall seemed to be suggesting that single party government is somehow less mature than coalition government; you’re spot on that there are always trades in a government of any stripe. It wasn’t wrong to point out the divisions between Labour when they were in power, and it isn’t wrong now to observe that some Liberal Democrats are opposed to the Tory colour of much of this government’s programme. The question then becomes – what do you do about it?

    At least with coalition politics we know why we’re not getting what we thought we’d voted for.

    I just don’t recognise this pre-coalition world in which the papers were not similarly full of which member of Cabinet supported which policy, how they were defeated and by whom. This process is no more or less grown-up or open when the two ministers in question are wearing differently coloured ties.

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