The latest polling shows that Nick Clegg and David Cameron are enjoying a honeymoon period. There’s been a lot of commentary about their excruciating ‘civil partnership’ ceremony which took place earlier in the week. In reality, the analogy is grossly insulting to any couple in a genuine, long-term relationship, as it’s clear that Nick and Dave picked each other up casually on the rebound. It’s not so much a marriage. More a status change on Facebook from ‘single’ to ‘in a relationship’. I have no doubt whatsoever that the coalition will end with an extremely messy divorce. The question is not if it will fall apart, but when.
Dave and Nick (described lovingly as Dick in one of the Sunday papers) are conducting their love affair in the centre ground of British politics and have much in common with one another – not least their elitist background, which includes leading public schools and Oxbridge. It’s actually not surprising that they are able to deal with one another, as they are both in their social comfort zone and neither has any clear ideological standpoint. Each is a pragmatic opportunist. The problem is that their respective parties are filled with people for whom pragmatism is anathema. These are the tree-hugging, pavement-pounding, anti-nuclear lefties of the Liberal Democrat Party and the authoritarian right-wingers in the Conservative Party who are bemused by their leader’s conversion to gay rights, ecology and hoodie-hugging. If you put these factions in a room together, there would be a blood bath, but their parties are now joined at the hip as they parade around the Westminster tearooms.
Some commentators have suggested that Blair dragged Labour into the centre and faced down opposition from his unreconstructed left wing. Surely, they argue, Cameron and Clegg are merely doing the same kind of thing? This superficially plausible argument ignores two points. The first is that the left of the Labour Party had already been fatally weakened by Kinnock and Blair in opposition before the party took power. The left-wing of the Lib Dems and the right-wing of the Tories are very much alive and capable of giving their leaders a kicking. The second point is that we are no longer dealing with one power axis, but two. We have twice the opportunity for division and revolt.
Vince Cable – the Con-Dem Business Secretary – is a decent enough guy. He’s my constituency MP and has helped me out on a couple of occasions. I was very struck by his ability to grasp the detail of some messy and complex problems I talked through with him. You could see how he became the chief economist at oil giant, Shell. There’s a big brain in there.
According to news reports, Vince was desperate to do a deal with Labour rather than the Tories and was on the phone to Gordon Brown in the days before the shameful agreement with Cameron. How far do Vince’s ‘progressive’ principles extend, however? Not far enough that he is prepared to draw a line in the sand. Not far enough to stand up to the vacuous nonsense spouted by his leader about ‘stable government’. No, the prospect of ministerial office was on offer and Cable took it, recognising no doubt that at 67, he was drinking in the last-chance parliamentary saloon. The price he pays is having to swallow hook, line and sinker any rubbish spouted by Chancellor George Osborne, to whom the cerebral Cable must now defer. With the trappings of power comes the humiliation of having to agreeing to the younger man’s claptrap. It can only last so long.
By bringing in the left-leaning intellectual Will Hutton to look at public sector pay and the maverick Labour MP Frank Field to tackle ‘poverty’ (ie slash welfare), Cameron’s big tent is starting to bulge with the biggest bunch of misfits, has-beens, losers and no-hopers that the British political establishment has ever managed to cram onto a campsite.
The huge lie at the heart of the Con-Dem government is that it represents some new kind of politics. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is the ultimate example of a ruling elite coming together to appoint friends and close political neighbours in a stitch-up that ignores the will of the voters entirely. Liberal Democrats around the country stole the support of Labour electors by promising that they were an anti-Tory party. Vince Cable has exploited this tactic endlessly in his south-west London constituency which he’s held since 1997. In the neighbouring seat of Kingston & Surbiton, Ed Davey squeezed my vote relentlessly in 2001 with the same argument. Today, the tactical voting bandwagon is exposed as a fraud. Far from being the anti-Tory party, the Lib Dems are revealed as being pro-Tory. If this information had been known prior to the 2010 election, how do you think it might have affected the way that people would vote?
The Liberal Democrats are shown to be shameless hypocrites and opportunists and they, in my opinion, will be the biggest long-term losers from this election. They claim to represent a new politics, but now believe in forming coalitions with opponents they denounced in the election. They rightly criticise our current voting system, which renders many people’s votes meaningless. But they have used it to do a deal which renders everyone’s votes meaningless.
The end result is completely poisonous for British politics and will almost certainly lead to greater disaffection – particularly among younger people who hope for change. The new way of doing things turns out to be the same old way of doing things. And I, for one, haven’t felt this politically motivated in 20 years.