by Stephen Tall on April 24, 2011
- Today the world of politics was rocked to its foundations by revelations that, with just 10 campaigning days to go before crucial elections and the first national referendum in a generation, rival Liberal Democrat and Conservative politicians are openly disagreeing with each other.
“We just never expected this,” confided one insider. “We all thought that once there was a Coalition they would agree on everything all the time. To see them carrying on like this, it’s almost as if there are fundamental disagreements of principle and policy separating them.”
I’m afraid I can’t find it in myself to join in the breathless speculation of political journalists that Nick Clegg’s interview in today’s Indy on Sunday (Deputy PM rages against Cameron ‘lies’), or Vince Cable’s rallying call to voters to approve AV to end Tory hegemony , somehow signal the beginning of the end of the Coalition.
The reality is, surely, a lot simpler, a lot more straightforward:
1. We are less than a fortnight away from vital elections. With low turn-out likely, the success of the respective parties’ get-out-the-vote operation will be crucial. Fundamental to that is motivating your base. That is why David Cameron has been pitching to the right-wing nut-job vote in recent weeks. It is also why Vince on Friday, Nick on Saturday, and Simon Hughes today have been reminding voters that the Lib Dems are a distinct, progressive voice — part of the Coalition, yes, but not joined at the hip to the Tories.
2. No-one seriously doubts the Coalition will survive whatever happens on the 5th May. It is precisely because the Coalition isn’t fragile that poltiicians at the top are feeling free to speak out. Does anyone seriously think that if the survival of the Government were teetering on the brink, Messrs Cameron, Clegg, Hague and Cable would be making speeches and giving media interviews which paint up the differences as clearly as they are? No, if the Coalition were in real jeopardy you’d be seeing a concerted spin operation to shore it up. Its solidity is what is giving its partners the freedom to shake it a little, to indulge in some loose-talk.
3. Clearly this is a strategy which has been explictly discussed and authorised right at the very top. Does it matter if Nick and Dave are ‘bessy mates’? No. It’s clear, though, they have an effective working relationship, and it’s also clear they both understand each other’s predicament. It helps David Cameron to have his Lib Dem partner accuse him of being right-wing; just as it’s helpful to Nick Clegg to be able to distance himself from his Tory partner.
4. Most crucially, neither the Lib Dems nor Conservatives have any compelling reason to want to end the Coalition now. Mark Pack’s “seven reasons the Coalition will last” still applies — to which I would add an eight: look at the polls. It’s obvious to anyone the Lib Dems would not want a general election now. But the Tories have little to gain either. Would David Cameron win outright? Maybe, but probably not. And it’s hard to see him surviving as leader twice, having each time failed to lead his party to victory. Quite simply, the Coalition will survive for at least as long as it’s in both partners’ interests for it to do so (and probably for a bit longer than that out of good old-fashioned politeness).
5. Oh, and one other thing worth noting about the focus on the Coalition parties: the Labour party is an irrelevant side-story just now.
I have said ever since the Coalition started that the ‘Westminster village’ media has never quite got its head around having two parties forming one government, implementing a core programme, while agreeing to disagree on other issues.
The excitability of today’s coverage — on a day I hope most folk are finding better things to do than obsess about political posturing — suggests commentators are no nearer understanding the Coalition.