Tag Archives: David Cameron

The Tory right are telling Cameron to be prepared to end the Coalition. Nick Clegg, take note.

Rumours always come connected to a catch-22. That is: say nothing, and speculation spreads; say something, and you admit the existence of the very problem you seek to dismiss. So it is with efforts exerted by Messrs Cameron and Clegg – who this week made a joint appearance at a railway depot in the West Midlands – to brush aside growing rumours of the Coalition’s early demise – giving weight to the rumours themselves.

But cracks there are – big ones; each week it seems like the paper-thin-plaster is becoming more and more transparent. The Prime Minister failed to come good on his promise to his deputy that he would deliver plans to reform the House of Lords. The Conservative leader was instead forced to watch the embarrassing spectacle of 91 of his MPs defy the party line on the issue and rebel.

Only, on this issue, the junior partners of the Coalition have a serious card they play in return. Up on the policy-making horizon are plans to review MPs’ constituency boundaries and reduce the size of the House of Commons. If realised, these plans could give the Tories another dozen or so seats. (As the Observer’s Andrew Rawnsley rightly points out: that the Conservatives have their hearts set of securing this small number of seats speaks volumes about their own prospects at the next election.) It is now widely reported that if Cameron fails to delivery House of Lords reform for Clegg, Clegg will see to it that his party kills off the boundary review. “All Lib Dems”, Rawnsley predicts, “ministers included, will vote against the changes.” This is not just another reporter’s rumour; senior Lib Dem figures like David Laws, Sir Menzies Campbell and Lynne Featherstone have hinted at a similar threat.

If this happens, Rawnsley says, some Conservatives predict “the anger among Tories will be so intense that it will be the death knell of this government”. Just this week, Graham Brady, chairman of the prolific 1922 Committee announced that the Coalition partners should have “a moment of separation”, well before the next election, so as to carve out a distinctive identity. There has been much talk of late in the right-wing press that this moment of separation should come sooner rather than later. On the influential Conservative Home blog, Andrew Lilico declares himself to be “almost certain” that at some point in during 2014 the Liberal Democrats could withdraw and grant the Tories a minority government.

The Liberal Democrats are all but dead. They now poll in single digits, often neck-to-neck with the UK Independence Party. Almost three in four members of the public say that Nick Clegg is doing badly. Whatever you think about the cuts, tuition fees or the environment, the Lib Dems have actually already achieved a lot of what Nick Clegg desperately wanted to do: show that they can be a party responsible and mature in Government. On this, they have done well. They have been disciplined to the point of suicide in putting aside their own desires and voting through coalition policies on welfare, healthcare and immigration. And the Lib Dem backbenchers, unlike some of their Conservative counterparts, have refrained from openly criticising the Coalition.

There are real parallels between the liberal conservative Cameron claimed to be, and the Orange Book strand of liberalism that Clegg champions. Nonetheless, he must have known that going into bed with the Tories would result in people leaving the Lib Demos in droves. And it did. But it could well be the case that although Clegg wanted to show people the Lib Dems could be a party of government, he never expected to govern again. Instead, he put all his money on delivering two major changes to our democracy and leave, in his wake, a long-lasting Lib Dem legacy. These are: introducing the Alternative Vote to Britain and reforming its upper chamber of unelected peers and bishops. Having already failed to deliver the first, it now looks very likely that he will fail to deliver the second. All the while the Tories boast that they have now implemented around 80 per cent of their manifesto.

Having failed to deliver this legacy, there is little that Clegg can give his party to reassure them that their time in Government has been worth it. “We made Tory reforms less bad” is not exactly a message to fire and fuel public appetite when it comes to knock on doorsteps in 2015. In the next election it is highly unlikely the Liberal Democrats will form yet another coalition with the Conservatives and show the world they are just an add-on to the Tory machine.

But they could begin to set out their own agenda in the hope of another Coalition – only this time with Labour, who are consistently leading the polls and, for the first time in two years, shown to be considered by the public as the most competent political party. This would first require some serious efforts to detoxify currently poisonous relations between the two parties.

Having set out an incredibly radical programme of reform – to education, welfare, healthcare – the Government is now in its implementation phase; most of its big ideas have already been declared. But the Government is still failing to fully achieve its biggest goal of all: reducing the deficit, cutting borrowing and the public debt. Debt has increased from £1 trillion to £1.4. The Office for Budget Responsibility says another £17 billion worth of cuts are needed by 2017. The age of austerity has only just begun and the lights have dimmed on any hopes of a long-lasting liberal legacy.

Perhaps it’s time to leave, Nick.

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Into office, out of touch

Labour are looking like a credible contender once more. In last week’s local elections, the party, which had been enjoying a significant lead in the polls, won 38% of the vote. This is still short of the 40% watermark, which, it is often accepted, needs to be reached if a party is seen to be in a position to form a majority Government. Meanwhile the Conservatives won 31%; the Lib Dems 16%. The Tories are nine points down on 2008; Labour are up 16.

But amid all these points and percentages, perhaps the most important figure is this: voter turnout is estimated to have been just 32%. In other words, only a third of people who are registered to vote turned up to cast their ballots (in some wards this was as low as 8%). This is the lowest turnout in English local elections since 2000.

Is this indicative of endemic apathy across the country? Or deep disillusionment with the current political system?

The answer is both.

The question whether, at a time when central government has imposed, top-down, deep cuts to public spending (the deepest since World War 2), people perceive their local council to be impotent is a highly pertinent one. But 32% also speaks volumes about people’s perceptions of politics and the ‘Westminster Village’, which, as its name suggests, is increasingly seen as isolated, out-of-touch and disconnected with people’s real lives and concerns. Recent polling by YouGov and the influential, centre-right think tank Policy Exchange revealed that 81% of people believe that politicians don’t understand the real world at all. Almost two thirds of people said that political parties were all the same. As the think tank’s deputy director points out “the ‘Westminster Village’ is seen as a bubble that doesn’t really understand the concerns of ordinary voters who are struggling to make ends meet.”

The majority of people think that neither the Prime Minister David Cameron nor the Chancellor George Osborne understand the problems faced by ordinary British people (70 and 74% respectively). Two thirds of people see the Conservatives as a party of the rich.  And while this, coupled with the big local election gains, should be good news for Labour, they too are also thought of as disconnected with people’s daily lives (albeit, more in tune than the Tories). Over half of people say the same for Eds Miliband and Balls as they did for Cameron and Osborne above; a similar number doesn’t trust the party with their money or the economy.

There are few excuses for not voting; people died (and, in many countries, still do) to secure this as democratic right. In Australia, voting is a civic duty and has been a legal requirement for the better part of a century. Australians who fail to vote, and without good reason, can be fined. There are good arguments for implementing a similar policy here. But while it will certainly incentivise people to go out and cast their ballot, it does nothing to alter people’s perception that the politicians voted in are out of touch.

What do you think? Should people be made to vote? Do politicians understand the concerns of ordinary citizens? Join in the debate and leave your thoughts below.


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