Thursday, 20 May 2010

The fastest rebrand in history

‘The Coalition’, as the Con-Dem leadership now proudly calls itself, has got busy. Nick and Dave have produced a logo of sorts and a new corporate colour – a rather insipid green – which adorned the policy document they released yesterday. I guess this is what children get when they mix pale blue with orange on the painting table.

The Oxbridge identikits didn’t bother employing a big branding consultancy for their change of identity, because they didn’t really want to tell anyone else it was happening. They believe in delivering all their proposals as a fait accompli. After all, a lot of their pronouncements don’t stand a moment’s scrutiny. The shortest of breathing spaces and the party activists on one side or the other will gather troops in revolt against the leaders of this ludicrous coup d’état. So, like magicians, Nick and Dave swirl the cups around on the table hoping that no one can spot their sleight of hand. And hey presto! Another empty policy initiative is unveiled.

The best example of Cameron’s style to date has come in his confrontation with Tory backbenchers over the role of the 1922 Committee. This archaic body has traditionally served as a ‘safety valve’, allowing ordinary MPs to express their concerns over policy to the Tory leadership. I stood against one of its former Chairmen – Sir Archie Hamilton – in Epsom & Ewell back in 1997. While the Committee has never been renowned for its perspicacity in matters political, it has legitimately claimed to be independent of the executive and to provide some kind of impartial commentary on the government of the day. This thought clearly troubled our new Prime Minister so much that he has insisted on his frontbench team being able to join the club. 118 Conservative MPs rebelled against his suggestion, as they felt that it completely undermined the whole raison d’être of the 1922. What’s more, they’re already fed up with Cameron’s high-handed style and touchy-feely policies. If only a fraction of this number rebel on substantive political issues, the Coalition will become extremely vulnerable.

It would be churlish to suggest that nothing good can possibly come out of the new government. If some of the more ambitious plans for House of Lords reform and the electoral system see the light of day, then I would be the first to applaud. I suspect, however, that the crowning glory of Nick Clegg’s political career is more likely to be the abolition of Home Information Packs. Far from ushering in the biggest political reforms since 1832, he will end up giving estate agents the biggest fillip since Sarah Beany first climbed her property ladder.

Clegg is a lightweight figure, promoted by circumstance way beyond his comfort zone. Many Conservatives realise this and are privately horrified at the amount of time he’s getting on TV and the prominence he seems to have in the new government. With fewer than 60 MPs – and from an election platform which promised amnesties for illegal immigrants and a nicey-nicey relationship with Europe – Clegg seems to be calling an awful lot of the shots. The feeling among Tory activists and MPs will undoubtedly be that Cameron has given his Lib Dem admirer more than was actually necessary. Is this because the Conservative Prime Minister is naïve and trusting? Or because he has a secret agenda to jettison the Tory right and its hardline agenda? Either way, it doesn’t look good.

What about the Lib Dems meanwhile? Why haven’t we seen more of a rebellion among their own grassroots? My feeling is that while the Tory oppositionalists will stay and fight, becoming a thorn in Cameron’s side for months and years ahead, the Lib Dem objectors will simply leave the party and head for Labour or the Greens. Or maybe they’ll pack up their troubles in their old kit bag and spend more time down on their allotment. Clegg’s party is dumbstruck by events that have taken old lefties such as Simon Hughes and Vince Cable over to the arch-enemy that they had fought in countless constituencies around the UK. For the moment, the endorsement of these influential figures gives Clegg some kind of figleaf. But it’s a figleaf that we know has been removed at least 30 times before and will eventually disappear again. At which point one of the Coalition Emperors will have no clothes.

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