Vir Cantium

I'm right, you know …

Monthly Archives: May 2010

Harriet Harman for Labour Leader!

Yes I know she’s not standing for it, but second to Diane Abbott Harriet would surely be the next most likely to frighten off the voters.

More to the immediate point, she does give good value at the despatch box. She is now of course acting up in the role of genuine caretaker leader (as opposed to the unofficial caretaker role that Gordon Brown held after October 2007). Her blend of Eighties “wimmin’s rights” and almost cringeworthy performances at PMQs used to make for an entertaining half hour. Today, however, she actually did quite well, all things considered. Then again, with up to three weeks to prepare you would expect her to be good, and with Cameron on form she needed to be. The same should go for tomorrow’s PMQs.[Doh! Should have checked the order paper first!]

Next week, though, should be more interesting. With only six questions – about ten minutes if she’s lucky – she will struggle more than she did with a full half hour. We shall see….

Who's Afraid Of The Big Bad Auntie?

Having been a Conservative for 18 years now, I have learned to manage my expectations. In particular, I know that whatever gets promised in opposition cannot always be done once office has been achieved, despite the best of intentions.

This approach does have the advantage that once we do get into power, every policy that does further the cause of smaller government and individual freedom which makes it into practice warrants a small celebration and provides a fillip for a healthily jaded and cynical party hack. Thus I have found a fair bit in the coalition agreement to be positive about.

On the other hand, it also means I am not tearing up the membership card at the news that the BBC has been let off the licence fee freeze and compulsory disclosure of top pay. As it was, the approach of my party seemed hesitant at best, based in a large part, it appeared, on the side-show of celebrities’ pay when we should be examining the whole rationale for a tax funded state broadcaster in the age of 21st century multi-channel, multi-platform broadcasting.

The problem with dealing with the BBC question is always going to be this: when in opposition, a party wants to be heard and making major threats to the BB’s cost existence is not likely to achieve that. Once in government and the almost inevitable erosion in popularity, a party wants to blunt negative media coverage … and ending the BBC’s cosy existence is not likely to achieve that either. In addition, of course, once the threats have been carried out then there is little left in a government;s armoury to wave at a broadcaster whose political culture and worldview will take a lot longer to change than will any abolition of the compulsory licence fee (even if that were on the policy table).

The 55% Thing

Like James, I have not blogged too quickly on the 55% debate, though I did draft a piece up on Thursday before deciding that I ought to have something of an idea of what the heck I was talking about.

To be honest, I am finding it difficult to get too worked up about the whole thing, though I probably should. Perhaps it’s because I know that much of the public will have little interest in it, given that now that the shape of the new government is settled most people are more interested in the mundane business of work and looking forward to the summer holidays. Therefore my mind is not made up, despite what follows.

I am still not comfortable with the idea that any government should change a parliamentary convention just for short term – or one term, to be more precise – convenience. I appreciate the numbers of course: non-Conservatives make up 53% of the seats in the Commons, so if the coalition broke up a dissolution would not necessarily follow – but is that the way it should be?

A confidence vote will still, as far as I am aware, require only a simple majority. Is it right that when a government no longer has the confidence of the house a general election should not follow? Put aside the example of Neville Chamberlain’s government in 1940; we are not fighting a world war. What would it do to the image of politics and parliament in the eyes of the voting public if the head of a government which can no longer govern still clings on as the result of a procedural adjustment?

Clearly the 55% is relevant only to the current coalition’s circumstances. I would not be disappointed if the proposal fell in what is rumoured to be a free vote. Should it stand, however, it should have a sunset clause that is effective no later than the end of this parliamentary term – if not before.

One other point springs to mind: if our Government is to establish a principle that a minimum 55% majority is required to change the status quo, then can we expect the same threshold (or higher, why stop at 55%?) to be applied, say, to the referendum on electoral reform?

First Of Many

The White House website runs a weekly video digest of what the President has been up to. This week, of course, it includes Barack Obama making that ‘phone call on Tuesday evening to David Cameron (at around 2:55) (via @SamuelCoates and @BrittanyVGreer).

President Obama speaking to newly appointed Prime Minister David Cameron by 'phoneNewly appointed Prime Minister David Cameron speaking to President Obama by 'phone.

A New Political Age?

Nick Clegg and David Cameron enter Number 10 as Deputy PM and PM

In the upheavals of the last few days, many have talked about a new political age dawning of cooperation over confrontation. Something along the lines of European politics is what we are to expect, apparently, especially if voting reform opens up the field in elections. If the track record of so many media driven prophecies is to be followed, the odds on this being another false dawn are short. Yet I rather hope it is true and that this is a change to something a little different.

If there is one sound rule in politics for anyone to follow it is this: don’t let it get personal. It turns off the voters and, even in two party politics, you will often find yourself having to work with the people you may have just been slagging off. Certainly, those of us in local government would – or should – have learnt this lesson fairly quickly.

It’s to his credit that Nick Clegg took in a light hearted manner the digging up of David Cameron’s comments about Clegg being “a joke”. I’m sure that such legacies of the last election will persist, and we’ll have to accept that. Tongue-in-cheek comments are the stuff of every workplace and we should be grown-up enough to live with them and not escalate the situation.

Chris Huhne ‘our’ new Energy and Climate Change Secretary (it’s weird to be writing that, but we’ll have to get used to it) was being interviewed yesterday when he related his experience as an MEP. Having accused a German MEP of being a “dinosaur” – a very un-European tone of political debate – he then had to approach him a few weeks later for assistance with another issue.

I think the reticence among quite a lot of my party colleagues for the coalition is borne not so much from ideological differences – for in the case of both libertarian and one-nation Tories those differences aren’t as great as outsiders may think – but from our experiences on the ground, where election campaigns have got nasty and the man rather than the ball has been played.

I’m not deluding myself that we’ll all we one big happy family, or that we should always work for compromise and consensus just for the sake of it, rather than as a means of achieving policy goals. This coalition, whether it lasts five years or five months, may be the only one we’ll see for another 65 years. In any case, we will still be fighting elections against the LibDems and others. However, while we may criticise each others policies or philosophy, or what a candidate says or does, let’s not forget we all (hopefully) want the same thing: a better society and country.

They’re All Tories Now

Right then, cards on the table: I would rather we had done a supply and confidence deal. I’d rather we’d had a Commons majority, of course, but I’m not in charge, so we’re stuck with it and will have to deal with it.

Now that the details of the agreement between my party and the LibDems are emerging, it is becoming clear that we could well be in day two of the long slow death of the Lib Dems as we know them. Those that will be sitting with the Conservatives in the cabinet room are  by and large the Orange Bookers on the right of the party, who tend to align themselves (I think, albeit it in the vague and flexible way that we’ve come to expect) with the classically liberal/libertarian tendency.

We will see a stop to ID cards and, as Harry Phibbs points out, genuine moves towards localism seem inevitable – and this local councillor is quite happy with that, though I will wait to see if the LibDem “fair votes” push reaches as far as the Town Halls before adding a third cheer to that.

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Well, Here We Are. Now What?

It’s odd to be watching the first Conservative Prime Minister to take office after a Labour incumbent since 1979. It’s even odder not to know what the programme of the new government is going to be – such is the fallout of the horse-trading that follows a hung parliament.

Anyway, I’m appreciating the moment, and giving it all a “woo” if not adding a “hoo” just yet and am celebrating with a nice cup of tea.

Newly Appointed Prime Minister David Cameron and HM The Queen

Are The LibDems In The Big Game … Or Their Own Endgame?

It’s difficult to see how things will work out well for the LibDems.

Whether there’s a ‘confidence and supply’ agreement or a full coalition (yeah, right) with the Conservatives, Clegg will have alienated or disillusioned most of his activists and half his voters. If he gets in with Labour, in a coalition of the losers, he’ll just disillusion the other half of his voters.

In the eyes of the ‘man in the street’ – the normal sort of person who thinks about politics seriously about once every four years – the LibDems have been a proxy for either a “none of the above” or “don’t know” option. The party has successfully duped many into thinking the party is somehow in the centre of the political spectrum, while a goodly number of Lib Dem activists would happily admit to being left of centre (or further). Whichever party they tie up with, that apparent equidistance will have disappeared.

Already there is no shortage of voices who, having been urged to vote LibDem to stop the Tories, are now spitting feathers at the prospect of a LibDem/Conservative deal. Even if Clegg does the dirty and ties up with Labour, a less distasteful prospect for many LibDems, any trust in the LibDems will have gone – and with it any chance of a credible claim to represent a new direction or honesty in politics.

Yet if he gets PR does all this matter? Yes, because a deeply divided – or even terminally split – Lib Dem party will not be able to compete against the likes of the Greens or UKIP in getting the attention of the electorate.

A referendum on PR will have to be won. Polls may presently show a majority in favour, but that is without any prominent campaign in favour of the current system. Bear in mind also that the longer the current negotiations drag on, the less the appetite for more of the same every couple of years.

Before he gets that far, of course, he has to actually get electoral reform. Whatever Cameron or Labour promise, it will have to come down to a vote in the Commons. How many MPs, having done the maths, would feel there is nothing to lose by defying the whips and not voting for Christmas?

Of course, before he gets that far, the coalition/support deal will have to survive the course; bear in mind any PR referendum will be unlikely to take place within a year (quite possibly longer) once the myriad of systems have been examined and the actual question decided on – and every decision in a coalition will be a long negotiating process.

So just what are the chances of the Lib Dems coming through the whole process still able to achieve as much as 23% in any election – PR or not – or even existing as a single party?

This Is Going To Get Messy

So here’s an optimistic view of what could happen in the next few weeks.

The Conservative/Lib Dem talks drag on for just long enough for the public to get pretty fed up with the whole hung parliament thing and the appetite for electoral reform begins to waver.

Ultimately Clegg, seeing polls such as that in the Sunday Times today – with 62% thinking that Brown should go – will give in to the pressure to do the deal with Cameron.

Cameron could offer a referendum on electoral reform, but clearly any such vote could not happen before next summer – after all, it could well take that long to decide what the question will be. That is twelve months for the debate to start in earnest and the strength and stability supporters (i.e. first past the post) to gain momentum. More crucially, it gives the opportunity for a minority Conservative government to call a fresh election, all the while both parties will be playing the usual power-sharing game of manoeuvering to ensure that the national interest takes priority when the whole thing goes pear-shaped it’ll be the other one who takes the blame.

Of course, all this will have to be sold to both parties. Many Conservatives may find themselves holding their nose and living with a deal as long as it is co-operation and not coalition – and Cameron surely knows this.

Now I’m writing this at around 10am, so Murphy’s Law will now determine that the whole thing will be irrelevant and out of date by 11am. Ho hum.