Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Tories Starting to Lose Wagon Wheels

I've gone along with the idea that, even with short memories, the effect of the Liberal Democrats as props of the right wing government is that if you want Tories then vote for them, or be progressive then you'd vote Labour. The Liberal Democrats have done themselves no favours, but of course worse than this was the electoral promise over Higher Education that they reversed, despite the same-time campaign for political honesty, and their last minute adoption of the Tories' austerity approach. The Lib Dems also were sold a up of the Alternative Vote scheme and subsequently lost, instead of going for proper electoral reform. Given MPs and constituency relationships, it might be that they drop to some 20 MPs after the election. If Nick Clegg was to resign in advance and a new leader elect come in, the losses would be less.

But some weeks ago there were quiet mumblings and corridor echoes of Liberal Democrats talking to Labour. The context is the fixed term parliament by which a Prime Minister has lost the power simply to call an election when he chooses.

When Tory MPs started attacking Liberal Democrats for frustrating their anti-European stance and making House of Lords reform another non-event in improving the constitution, some Liberal Democrats decided they'd had enough. Now the opportunity has arisen for which real and actual damage can be done, and one that might even see Liberal Democrats as bystanders as the political damage gets done.

It comes about with the identification of the top of the government with privilege and with the News International people. The Tories promised in opposition to close down OFCOM and there was, one, a real danger that our media could have been concentrated in the hands of Murdoch with the BBC wings clipped. Indeed, the BBC has already responded by trimming its activities (as in magazines and the extent of its website, so to be sensitive to competitors). The licence deal pushed on the BBC involves contraction. The Tories made these promises while socialising with the powerful media owners and employing them. Jeremy Hunt and his political advisor expressed very pro News International views: he claims, however, that he acted neutrally. Of course the Tories did not win, and a coalition took place, with necessary proper cabinet and civil service operations, and Vince had the media job at first.

It all looks very sleazy and there are some non-central but not unimportant Liberal Democrats appearing on TV and sticking the boot in about the socialising, the bad judgments, the emails and texts, and about the personalities. But the point about these government mixers is that they are so easily identified, and it is the frustrated Tories who are getting angry with their own side, never mind their dislike for the Liberal Democrats.

It is quite possible that, in the context of a fixed parliament, where bringing down your prime minister does not change the electoral arithmetic (the government used to fall with a prime minister), the Tories could go after a sleaze drenched and Liberal Democrat compromised top of the party and attempt to replace it with a more right wing leadership. Never mind the Liberal Democrats splitting, as Liberals once did with the Tory-like National Unionists and then the others, the Tories could also split as this government continues with its sleaze and its economic failure and overall lack of direction.

The poll ratings are dropping now, and for the Conservatives in particular. My own view is that Cameron and Osborne are like privileged amateurs, politicians for appearances rather than of substance. Should this little elite tumble, the parliament could rapidly rearrange itself. Clegg would have to go, but a new arrangement before the election date could involve that grand coalition of the left. It may not be a dominant government, but the Conservatives would be weaker. It might be just enough to reverse some policies, to understand that the economy is a dynamic relationship of economic actors and not some zero-sum game of costs - where the flat money curve at a time of deep recession means spending on infrastructure to get capital and people working.
If the Liberal Democrats could switch, they might just redeem themselves as progressive, and as having a role in forming government between fixed election dates.

The Leveson Inquiry is putting a spotlight on to elites and power, and a particular elite that came to power on a coalition (and one it quite enjoyed at first). The wheels are wobbly and they could soon start coming off. If they do then the political results could be quite fascinating.

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