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.