Because even a stopped clock is right twice a day

by Stephen Tall on October 9, 2008

I’ll be honest: The Spectator’s Coffee House blog is not one of my favourites reads. Despite or because of its prolific output – eight posts today, and counting – too much of it reads as unthinkingly pro-Tory, while its visceral contempt for Labour too often blinkers it to serious analysis. Coffee House may speak with many voices but they all sound the same. And yet, and yet… There have been two articles this week which have partially broken the mould and seem worth highlighting.

First up, is James Forsyth’s verdict on Gordon Brown’s cabinet reshuffle, All tactics, no strategy:

When you look at the reshuffle it becomes clear that Brown has appeased every faction in the Labour party: the Blairites get Mandelson back and McBride moved upstairs, Compass get Jon Trickett as Brown’s PPS, the Unions get Adonis moved from education and Gordon Brown himself gets a Whip office staffed by his praetorians. But it still remains totally unclear what Gordon plans to do next.

In other words, the reshuffle was an entirely defensive manouevre, designed solely to shore up the Prime Minister’s still-precarious hold on power, rather than signalling any new policy direction for the party. This was not Gordon Brown stamping his authority on the party, but rather playing footsie with all-comers. Insofar as Mr Brown now appears to have a strategy it is a batten-down-the-hatches, hold-on-to-nurse-for-fear-of-something-worse pitch to voters. Which may help secure Labour’s grip on its core vote and escape electoral evisceration, but won’t stave off defeat unless they project a positive mission.

Then, second up, is today’s post by Peter Hoskin, Clegg adopts the right level of cooperation:

The most impressive moment in yesterday’s PMQ’s came courtesy of an unlikely source – Nick Clegg. The Lib Dem leader generally toed the “we’ll cooperate with the Government” line, but he also stirred in a punchy addendum: that some of the money Brown’s splashing around might be better spent on reducing the tax burden for low-income earners. I happen to agree with him, but – whatever your views on that front – there’s little denying that Clegg’s found a message which enables the Lib Dems to operate in a spirit of cooperation whilst also saying something a little bit different and eye-catching.

I happen to agree with Nick, too – though I accept that’s a little less surprising than the praise his PMQ’s performance has attracted from the likes of the Spectator or Iain Dale. (The PoliticsHome PHI100 snap poll of ‘political insiders’ slated Nick’s performance, which says more about the redundancy of the PHI100 than it does about reality).

It is part of the Lib Dems’ narrative, one of our USPs, that the party is prepared to buck the trend, to say stuff the other two parties simply won’t dare to think. Partly it’s the party’s nonconformist, anti-establishment, contrarian roots; partly, our critics would argue, that as the third party we can propose policies without having to take responsibility for them. Whichever view you take it shows the continuing importance of Liberal Democrat thinking today, no matter that the media would prefer to turn the clock back to a 1950s’ world of two-party politics.