In a piece for the Sunday Telegraph titled; “The Tories have made success look like a train crash” Janet Daley asks a question but fails to realise the obvious answer. She notes; “Believe it or not, the welfare reforms are proceeding with remarkably little serious obstruction. The liberation of schools from political domination by local councils is positively whizzing along. And, to top it all, George Osborne’s plan to reduce the deficit as rapidly as humanly possible is now generally accepted by all authoritative bodies as sound.” She asks; “So why do we have the impression that this is a government in deep – possibly terminal – trouble?” She puzzles; “Bizarrely, politicians who shamelessly describe themselves as having learnt all their formative political lessons from Tony Blair have achieved the precise opposite of the Great Role Model.”
I think you miss the obvious Janet; why give the appearance of turbulent chaos while policy progress slides beneath the surface with the inexorability of the gulf-stream?
The answer might be that what we are witnessing is a master-class in distraction and misdirection by the coalition in general, and the Conservatives in particular, and the necessity for it was demonstrated amply by Tony Blair’s first term. With an enormous landslide and huge public support Blair still managed to achieve very little of consequence in his first term, and by the time he got to his second term the momentum was so dulled by the perception of spin and drawn-out battles over trivial issues that his reform agenda effectively stalled.
What follows is pure and unsubstantiated speculation:-
The Tories knew in the course of the coalition negotiations the following basic truths:
> In implementing austerity Britain they risked creating a 21st century anti-Thatcher generation, therefore a coalition was not just necessary it was mana from heaven.
> To implement austerity Britain fully and reap the benefits it brings, and thus come out the other side of hell with sunlit uplands in sight, the Coalition must last five years.
The Lib-Dems knew in the course of the coalition negotiations the following basic truths:
> If they are ever to escape the shadow of Labour they would have to differentiate themselves from the ‘benign’ authoritarianism of the latter day Labour Government.
> If they are to escape the status of eternal bridesmaid of progressive-left politics they would have to be more than a repository for protest votes, they must become a party of Gov’t.
Both parties knew in the course of the coalition negotiations the following basic truths:
> That in transforming the Lib-Dem’s into a party of Government that they would immediately lose a large proportion of their current voter base, i.e. the protest voters.
> That in order to survive the bleeding-out of the parties Labour refugees and student malcontent’s the Tories would have to take some of the heat and give some victories.
What other excuse can we find for the utterly hilarious cock-up over selling off the forests? Remember, this was an area of ‘government’ that generated £1.1 billion of economic value for £17 million in operating costs; all for the purpose of raising a one-off figure of £100m-£250m…………… While vast changes are made to education and welfare, not to mention the central premise of spending reductions themselves, the government gets four months of prime legislating time free of resistance while every luvvie up and down the land expends their energies on saving Britain’s beloved forests. Sounds like an absolute win to this blog!
A similar situation exists with parliamentary reform. Frankly speaking the voting public really does not care about the AV referendum, however, electoral reform remains totemic to the Lib-Dem party members and activists, so some form of concrete proposal had to be offered as an inducement in coalition negotiations. They got a referendum on AV, which won’t be particularly harmful to the Conservatives if adopted, but equally isn’t wanted by the Tories themselves or the wider electorate. At present you have the Tories firmly against, the Lib-Dem’s split by the No-2-AV-Yes-2-PR campaign, Labour split by the knowledge they will suffer under AV, and a known trend for small “c” conservatism in national referendums, thus it is quite probable the “Yes” campaign will fail. What to do? Offer the Lib-Dem’s a reformed House of Lords elected by proportional representation. As the times noted a week ago it is being touted as a consolation prize to keep Lib-Dem spirits up in the event of a no-vote, the perceived value of which will only be enhanced by screams of agonised protest from the Tory-right. The coalition politburo will be happy to let them scream, it will mollify the Lib-Dems and occupy the column inches of political pundits that might otherwise focus on what’s really happening.
Even under Lansley’s NHS reforms, the subject of a pause while new consultation occurs to ensure that GP’s are not forced to become fundholders via the abolition of PCT’s, it is rumoured that 90 per cent of the country was already covered by GPs who had expressed an interest in taking on the budgets. This is not 90% of GP’s, but it is early days, the horse has bolted regardless of pauses to official legislation.
Even where the Lib-Dems have compromised on policy to the evident disgust of their core electorate it has been of marginal impact to their electoral strategy for 2015 and 2020. The U-turn on tuition fees being a case in point. A large proportion of the student/youth vote that gave their support to the Lib-Dems in 2010 will not do so again at the next election, but this is the same demographic that in large part liked the Lib-Dems precisely because they were anti-establishment, and the entire purpose of Clegg’s orange-bookers is to forge a party of government, i.e. part of the establishment. Those votes were gone anyway, and in acting as they did, with the riots that occurred in response, they have no doubt purchased some measure of sympathy of the mainstream (pro-establishment) electorate.
Without doubt there is an agreed schedule of possible concessions, available at various times and of varying political consequence, which can be trotted out to give either partner political cover or perhaps a victory over the other party, for the purpose of reducing the pressure applied upwards from the party’s grass-roots to the leadership.
What is the ultimate purpose of this complex game of duck-n-cover?
In the past politics has been defined by the divide between economic liberalism and economic authoritarianism, the traditional left or right, with social authoritarianism only used as a stick to beat the Tories. The game has now changed, with Labour’s big-state leading to a default socially authoritarian position whilst Cameron manoeuvred the Tories towards social liberalism. The coalitions game is to change the definition of politics to a divide between economic liberalism and economic authoritarianism, with social authoritarianism now used as the stick with which the ‘mainstream’ politics can beat Labour. The Lib-Dem’s will position themselves as the friendlier and more effective brand of progressive-left politics, and if they succeed Labour will suffer.
The judgement of this blog is that during the course of this transformation the coalition will attempt to marginalise Labour by engineering society away from acceptance of big-state solutions, and do so under cover of manufactured crises in trivial policy domains/technicalities. Plurality politics always results in the mainstream parties occupying as broad a swathe of the political spectrum as possible, but no one political idea will ever dominate all, so the Tories will be happy to assist in the birth of an opposition absent the toxic hatred evidenced by Labour.