Polygonic

That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

Omnishambles: the Brits dump the F35s

It’s contagious

The Brits have made just as big a dog’s dinner out of the F35 file as the Harperites have.

Whereas Canadians are fond of the word “boondoggle” to describe the government’s hopeless mismanagement of money and priority, the term in the UK right now is “omnishambles.” Both are beautiful in their own special way. 

Boondoggles and omnishambles aside, the biggest difference in approaches to this file, unsurprisingly, is that Westminster have now admitted that the programme is simply not viable, and they’re now pulling a difficult u-turn. Ottawa, in contrast, hedges and hides and lies and pretends all is well, when it is blindingly obvious they have already gone much too far down this broken road.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-18008171

How long will it be till the F35 programme itself is wound down? And will Peter MacKay still be posing in the cockpit when they fill it with mothballs?

Omnidoggles.

 

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Filed under: Canada, Politics, UK, , , , , , ,

La France Forte, or Why You Desperately Need Sarko Standing On the Beach

The French presidential campaign is kicking into high gear, and Nicolas Sarkozy has one key message for his ungrateful people: vote him back in, and he promises to spend his second term standing on the beach, like a magnificant granite Colossus, liquifying overseas demons with the sheer power of his blue-eyed gaze. 

Don’t believe it? Here’s the advert.

Fancy a dip?

It’s been running for about a month, and it’s the subject of some witty (and goofy) send-ups(Franc Fort, Farce Fort, France Morte…). But as I’ve just come across it, what in the dickens is it trying to tell us? He certainly doesn’t look prepared for the beach. 

First off, we ask ourselves – what exactly is this inexpressive poker face meant to project to us? That he doesn’t enjoy his job anymore? Or he has no time for trivial things such as cuddling kittens or chilling with his family?

Perhaps it’s that compassion and empathy are naive, wasteful, hopeless attributes in a world strewn with threatening vagrants? I think so. Here is Sarkozy, steely-eyed warrior, who has achieved a lasting peace with his unenviable duty – the perennial defence of his people against relentless, unspoken nastiness, washing up on the nation’s beaches!

Indeed, beaches. France is a famously geographically diverse country, and his deadened gaze might have been set against any number of natural backdrops. The Alps. A sun-kissed pasture. A mostly-sunny sky with a couple of attractive, clumpy clouds you just want to bite into.

But this vast, flat grey sea. No sign of waves, islets, boats, or features of any kind. The eye is drawn to nothing but the horizon. And what lies over France’s oceanic horizons?

Fear, in two tiers. 

Firstly, amongst the Marine Le Pen fans and other xenophobes of the far right (of whom there are too many), nothing matters more than immigration and foreigners. Take heart, hard-asses – when Granite-Sarko stands on his Mediterranean coastline, he looks outward towards North Africa with a sober resolve to smite so much as a dodgy looking raft drifting his way. Sure, Granite-Sarko seems cold, but it is because he fully understands the scale of the threat bursting northward from Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Mordor itself, overflowing with writhing masses of non-Christian refugees and non-conformist asylum seekers keen to exploit the nourishing teat that is the French Republic.

Sarko stands on guard. France’s teat is not for their suckling. Plain and simple.

For the more moderate French nationalists (of whom there are also a great, great many), Granite-Sarko stands not on the Med, and not so much as a merciless bulwark. But he stands on his northern shores, almost within sight of Great Britain, which he regards with the non-plussed demeanour of a dinner host watching an arrogant, drunken guest boast about himself while ladling brown gravy onto his salmon. With a dessert spoon.

Sarko reminds his people, that in the face of Britain’s swaggering self-exceptionalism within the European Union, it is only he who can tell David Cameron, literally, to shut up. Sarkozy will not bend or wither, and will happily dismiss the selfish pleadings of his Anglo-Saxon nemesis and snub his handshakes!

The logic is that London has tried for too long to free itself from Europe’s grasp, yet continues to enjoy coming down to the Continent with wagging fingers and half-assed condescension. Sarko responds by unfurling his middle finger, to the applause of his peeps. In that vein, he is self-respect, he is firmness, he is bold and fair on the European project, and will take no guff from ale-swilling islanders to the north.

This poster, truly, has it all! Nicolas Sarkozy as the great Janus of French conservatism, looking two ways at once to two quite distinct voting constituencies and hoping, dearly, that at least someone, somewhere, in some direction, will take the bait.

Filed under: International, Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What’s so wrong with the rough and tumble?

From Canada’s blushing outrage at Brigette DePape’s stop sign, to the House of Commons’ brand-new heckle-bans, it seems there’s little more important these days than the skin of respectful politesse. Any concern, though, for the health of the deeper corpus?

The British House of Commons, for example, is not a place characterised by decorum, but most would say it works well. It is indeed a raucous chamber of loud hoots and heckles, brazen browbeatings, laddish one-liners, and disparaging quips. Teasing “yeas!” and “whoas!” are bellowed from the backbenches, in support or in attack, of leaders’ proclamations. Each session of Prime Minister’s Questions truly feels like trial by drunken fraternity, and both Labour Leader Ed Miliband and PM David Cameron dish out, and receive, the kinds of bruising blows that would absolutely liquify Stephen Harper et al.

Watch yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Questions for a sample.

But what’s telling, and it came up in yesterday’s session, is that, in both the Canadian and British Parliaments, one thing you cannot do is accuse another member of lying. Because that’s impolite. Cameron made the mistake of accusing Miliband of “misleading the House,” which led the Speaker to demand a retraction.

Cameron said median (hospital) waiting times had gone down and claimed Miliband had misled the house about the issue two weeks ago, prompting an intervention from the Commons Speaker, John Bercow, who urged him to withdraw the remark in line with protocol.

Cameron said: “What I meant, of course … he gave an interesting use of facts in terms of waiting times, which are down in the NHS (National Health Service).”

Miliband responded: “The whole house will notice he didn’t withdraw that, and obviously he is rattled about the health service.”

“After a year, he’s proved the oldest truth in politics – you can’t trust the Tories on the NHS.”

Such protocol is one component of a broad effort to maintain a some semblance of dignified decorum in the House, and fine. But I do find it a cruel irony that, while a Parliamentarian can be admonished by the Speaker for accusing another of lying, they are not similarly admonished for doing the actual lying.

John Baird earlier this year claimed, in the House of Commons, that allowing Emirates Airlines three more landing slots at Canadian airports would cost “tens of thousands” of Canadian jobs. Remember that? Tens of thousands! Jeez Louise, John. There really aren’t more than 90,000 Canadians employed in the Canadian aviation industry all told, so far as I can figure, so any labourers counted in the plural units of 10,000 implies up to a quarter of the sector. They were all at risk of unemployment? Because of Emirates? Three landing spaces? If our aviation industry is so imperilled, then let’s get talking about that!

Decorum, deschmorum, Baird deserved a routing for peddling patently vacuous lies in the House of Commons, but even in the 40th Parliament, for all it’s “roughness,” he didn’t get one. He should have been mocked and hollered at, torn a new one, politically discredited and accused – indeed – of lying. Because that’s what he did, and that ought to be considered the greatest affront to good government.

The self-policed Parliamentary politesse that everyone seems interested in is a skin-deep solution that does not cure the rot in politics. It’s never been the roughhousing that turn citizens off politics – we’re hockey fans, remember? No, it’s the lies. Brazen dishonesty, without reprimand or consequence, is the real sin that’s ailing our politics.

Civility is nice, and there is nothing to admire in personal attacks or irrelevant insults. But the tone of Parliamentary debate is a secondary concern to the substance of it. The real game misconducts should be reserved for outright lies.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, UK, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Common sense news-flash: Non-voters’ non-votes won’t be counted

The surreal mind-game seems to have wound down. And with that, a woot woot. Imagine this. The democratic chamber has overruled the undemocratic chamber (green with envy, Canada?)

MPs reject 40% threshold plan for the AV referendum

MPs have overturned a proposal to make a referendum on the Westminster voting system non-binding unless 40% of the electorate take part in the poll.

Peers backed the measure earlier this month but the Commons rejected the proposal by a majority of 70.

Cabinet Office minister Mark Harper said there was a “compelling” case for voters to make the final decision.

It’s fun reading about someone with the last name “Harper” taking the position that the unelected chamber should bow to the elected. Hee.

The referendum, slated for 5 May, now has a much better prospect of being staged at all, and of being a fair account of the democratic will. The battle for Alternative Vote supporters now is going to be to try to disassociate “Brand Electoral Reform” from the toxic “Brand Nick Clegg,” which will not be easy, nor fun. Many erstwhile supporters of the abolishment of first-past-the-post will now potentially use the referendum as an occasion to simply bludgeon the Lib Dems and rob them of their platform mantlepiece, sadly, which is going deep into cutting-off-nose-to-spite-face territory. Call the Lib Dems what names you will, people – this is your chance to enact one of their platform policies (ones which you voted for last year!), despite Clegg’s apparent Toryboy sycophancy.

That battle will be waged over the next few months. For now, at least, we can be glad that the referendum on the UK’s voting system won’t be subject to quicksand regulations that go beyond those which govern the election of MPs themselves. It’s a goose and ganders situation, which the HoC has cottoned onto. No good setting a precedent whereby turnout thresholds threaten to scupper the voices of active electors.

So, in conclusion – phew. For now.

Filed under: Politics, UK, , , , , , ,

Tories vs Republicans

An interesting sketch of the widening abyss between American Republicans and British Tories – two strands of conservatism that barely recognise each other anymore. The UK currently has a Conservative PM that, for all his fiscal draconianism, expresses only the barest of social-conservative principles as compared with the Tea Party, or the Reform Party up north.

Where would Harperites fit on this spectrum? Or is that just too depressing to contemplate?

Unlike Margaret Thatcher, British Conservatives no longer echo Ronald Reagan’s view that government is the problem not the solution.

But the important point is this: Mrs Thatcher and Mr Reagan shared a governing philosophy: ideology and pragmatism. Ideology was great for speech-making and letting people know what you thought, pragmatism was necessary for governing. As American and British Conservatives drift apart, like Gondwana and Pangaea, it seems that American Republicans have let go of their pragmatic inheritance.

Without pragmatic respect for what previous governments have done, can they really be considered “conservative” in the true meaning of the term?

Filed under: Canada, Politics, UK, , , , ,

100 days of Coalition

We’re past the 100-day mark of Coalition Government in the UK, and the universe hasn’t yet imploded. Lib Dems support may have, but the universe appears to be fine.

How is the public coping? Jonathan Freedland at The Guardian notes that:

The most striking change is the fading of novelty. This is not to be confused with the end of the coalition’s honeymoon, which – if lukewarm approval ratings are any guide – has also come astonishingly fast. It is instead the speed with which a political arrangement once confined to the dreams of nerdish games of fantasy politics, has become entirely unremarkable. There was some gasping at the “firsts”: Lib Dems strolling up Downing Street for their first cabinet meeting since 1945; Vince Cable clambering into a ministerial car; Lib Dems sitting alongside Tories on the government benches; Clegg deputising at prime minister’s questions. But after each first time, the second lost its frisson. Now the sight of Chris Huhne at the dispatch box is no more unexpected than the sight of, say, Jeremy Hunt: they’re just the government. Coalition politics is the new normal.

It’s something I’d like to shout out to any of the doom-mongers in Canada who hyperventilate with fear at the prospect of coalition government.

Indeed, there are good reasons why Canadian coalition could work even more smoothly than in Britain. Big caveats being that Canadians are more party-tribal than Brits, more cautious regarding electoral reform – and of course Canadians tend to view the big sovereigntist party in Parliament as not only intellectually distasteful, but as thoroughly immoral. The British don’t take the same emotional view of Scottish nationalists, so Canada has a bigger problem in terms of which parties would be deemed acceptable coalition partners.

Canada’s advantage, though, is that its Tories have already ruled themselves out of any potential coalition arrangement – they’ve slandered and smeared the very concept as impure, borderline criminal, unworkable and illegitimate. As he reminds us quite literally ad nauseum, Harper doesn’t do partnership. This means that the risk of a coalition with an ideological chasm embedded within it is unikely. The Liberals and the NDP, the only real Canadian coalition possibility, share an ideological compatibility that the UK’s Tories and Lib Dems aren’t supposed to enjoy.

“Supposed to” being the operative phrase there. The rifts and the faults that are emerging are not between the Tories and the Lib Dems – it’s within the Lib Dems themselves. The question is no longer existential and unimportant – What is their identity? Are they social democrats or are they liberals, finally? What does an alloy look like, and is that what we have? Joining government, and especially at a time of huge economic pain, forces this jagged question right through the heart of the party and through its base.

Cuts to public finances are deep and severe. They don’t offend the Tory base too much – Cameron’s voters are largely wealthy, and don’t tend to sympathise too much with those who aren’t. The Lib Dems base, though, is disproportionately young, less wealthy, and views itself as fiercely (if ambiguously) anti-establishment. So being the establishment was always going to feel uncomfortable.

Couple that with competing visions of what the party even is. Two observations this morning from Lib Dems Deputy Simon Hughes, and Leader Nick Clegg:

On Clegg:

8.29am: Not a very revealing performance by Clegg on the Today programme. He painted a picture of perfect harmony within the coalition, refusing to identify any subject on which the Tories and Lib Dems disagreed. Perhaps, given the Conservatives’ positive poll rating, he sees aligning the Lib Dems as closely as possible with the Tories as the way to revive his own party’s flagging poll ratings?

On Hughes:

Hughes wants a veto: “If you want a coalition to deliver the vote then you have to make sure everybody has bought into that,” he said. “It’s a matter of practical politics, the answer is therefore: yes, the parliamentary party, on behalf of the wider party, on big issues has to say, ‘No, we can’t go down this road.'”

and

“The idea of a centre left, of a progressive liberal Britain, is still very much for me what I am here to achieve,” said Hughes, who took over from Vincent Cable as deputy leader in June and has since become a lightning rod for Lib Dems discontented with the coalition. “Who knows, there may be a coalition with a Labour party if they are progressive at the next election, after the next election or sometime in the future. It’s on the agenda.”

So, on the same morning, this 100th anniversary, we see opposite tacks at the highest levels of the party: the social democrat who openly covets partnership with Labour, and the neo-liberal who simply cannot identify a single area of dispute with Conservatives. The ambitious social democrat who thinks the Lib Dems could punch above their weight, despite having just 1/6 the seats of the Tories – and the relaxed neo-liberal who is easily resolved to having got a few ideas in the joint manifesto, and is happy to cruise from here on in.

I don’t want the Lib Dem’s party conference this autumn to be an acrimonious dog-pit. But the odds are looking pretty good that it will be. With the unresolved wings of the Lib Dems flapping in different directions, the battle for unity of purpose lies within the Lib Dem tent, not between it and its Tory partners.

I voted Lib Dem, and I for one am not outraged at the Coalition’s performance so far. I know to place my outrage towards the senior partner where their policies seem short-sighted, careless, amaterurish, meanspirited. We do have to accept that it’s a Conservative government at heart – they’ve got the portfolios and they’ve got the bulk of seats. So while I share Simon Hughes idealism and would prefer the party better reflected his outlook, I also share Clegg’s degree of realpolitik around what the party can do with barely 50 seats. Here’s hoping they can unify around a strategy, that’s pragmatic and still distinct, to boost that seat count in future, not see it abolished through splittist infighting.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, UK, , , , , , ,

Growing into the marriage

They’re beginning to get it.

The UK’s coalition government, while perfectly functional so far, has been beset by two main troubles:

1) party leaders who are each much more enthusiastic about coalition than their respective parties are. David Cameron loves it because he can use the Lib Dems as leverage against the Thatcherites on his far right, and Nick Clegg loves it because he gets to be called “Deputy Prime Minister” and feels as though this is the opportunity for his party to finally be viewed as a “party of government.” If only their parliamentary parties were as chuffed.

2) perceived, and real, sycophancy from Clegg towards Cameron. In effort to appear central to government decision-making, Nick Clegg has publicly agreed with all kinds of things his party blatantly does not agree with, and which contradict his own recent election campaign. This breeds resentment among Team Yellow, and has hurt Clegg (and thus the apparent durability of the coalition) relatively badly.

To address these challenges, I’ve thought that the Lib Dems (maybe counter-intuitively) need to disagree with the Tories more often, and more loudly. They need to be consistent in the message they made during the campaign – that they disagree with severe budget cuts, that they remain committed to creating equality of opportunity, that they ideally want a scrapping of tuition fees and a nuclear weapons programme, etc. – and stress that, as a junior partner in coalition, they won’t get their way every time. There are going to be some nasty policies which are all Cameron’s fault. Go on and say it guys – it won’t cause a divorce.

The Lib Dems deputy leader Simon Hughes has taken a step in the right direction over Cameron’s plans to end lifelong council housing tenancies. Hughes says:

“It’s a prime ministerial idea, it has no more validity yet, and I think our party would need a lot of persuading that it has merit or could work and that’s something clearly if he wants us to talk about we’re happy to talk about.”

That is, we didn’t dream this one up, we don’t much like it, and if the Tories want to pursue it, we’re going to need some give and take. That is much better for the Lib Dems’ integrity than pretending they really believed in curtailing housing benefits all along, which, while an attempt to seem supremely influential at government’s heart, just discredits the whole idea that the Lib Dems ever offered anything new.

So yes, good for Hughes – create respectful space. Defend your corner, and reach any compromise with dignity intact. I hope Clegg is listening.

Filed under: Politics, UK, , , , , , ,

Meaning it – and loving it

I’m beginning to build a distinct impression of David Cameron – especially when seeing him abroad. It’s a vision of a kind of self-playing bagpipe, one which honks and hums from one note to the next with no apparent effort to achieve coherence, grace or melody. Sorry, bagpipes.

He communicates with a Blairesque (or even “Obaman”) self-confidence, but without the gravity of substance, the thrill of compelling argument, or the ring of sincerity. The end goal seems to be no greater than “conclude an effective schmooze” with whoever is hosting – even if that means infuriating other parties who aren’t physically present.

It seems true of his visit to Turkey this week. I’m including some choice excerpts from his speech to the Turkish Parliament today (sub-headings by me).

Patronising
“Those who wilfully misunderstand Islam, they see no difference between real Islam and the distorted version of the extremists. They think the problem is Islam itself. And they think the values of Islam can just never be compatible with the values of other religions, societies or cultures. All of these arguments are just plain wrong.”

Thanks, David. I’m sure that the Turkish Parliament (which, umm, operates within a secular constitution) appreciates your view that Islam isn’t (just) for monsters. Hopefully in future, we should be so lucky as to have the UK or Canadian Parliaments told by a foreign leader that Christians are not inherently spiritless hypocrites. Because that’s just plain wrong.

Cringeworthy
“A European Union without Turkey at its heart is not stronger but weaker… not more secure but less… not richer but poorer.”

Wow. A triptych of juxtaposed opposites. Could Cameron have continued? “Not more united, but less united. Not happier, but sadder. Not pepperier, but saltier. Wait, are those even opposites? Ooorgh!”

And that’s the point – presenting vague “opposite scenarios” isn’t really an insight – it’s fluff. Of course Turkey joining the EU would strengthen it in some areas, weaken it in others, anger the consolidating Hadrians and delight the expansionist Trajans. Cameron could have explained his idea as to what would be strengthened, why we’d be more prosperous, and how we’d be any more secure. Ambitious, I know.

Angry
“It makes me angry that your progress towards EU membership can be frustrated in the way it has been.”

Does it? Because there are steps that a constructive member of the European Union could take to ensure that it maximises its influence, and they aren’t the steps Britain has taken. We know what Britain generally (and especially the Tories) wants the EU to look like – they pursue the broadest, shallowest version of Europe possible. A Europe that ought to keep spreading out to Ukraine and Turkey (even some liberals would like to include ceremonial semi-states like Kosovo), but the UK generally also idealises a Europe that does nothing, makes no laws, bears no arms, waves no flag. Kind of a big house party where everyone’s invited, and no one has any responsibilities.

But the Conservative British desire for a big, flat useless Europe has manifested itself, unhelpfully, in British retrenchment from Europe. Cameron’s sidelined the UK in the EU Parliament by joining a bloc of nutters and nationalists. He campaigned on an anti-Europe ticket, and upon election, told the faithful he’d soon be wresting powers away from Brussels as soon as he could figure out how to.

None of these policies have given the British any more influence in shaping Europe to their Trajanist vision, and so any “anger” now at Europe not behaving in UK interests is just misplaced. In short, if Britain were at the heart of Europe, maybe Turkey would be closer as well.

“So I will remain your strongest possible advocate for EU membership and greater influence at the top table of European diplomacy.”

Britain isn’t at the “top table,” and are unlikely to return there by stamping on Sarkozy’s or Merkel’s toes like this.

Next stop?

Well, excitingly, Cameron will be delving deeper into Old Asia next, with a visit to India. Let us hope he doesn’t tell them their religion isn’t as godless as some make out, and that they’d make a smashing partner in the European Union too, if only the damned French weren’t so difficult about it.

Filed under: International, Politics, UK, , , , , , , , , , ,

Cloaks, daggers, vested interests

Tests are coming fastly and furiously for the Ruling Coalition.

When the Lib Dems joined government, not two months ago, much unease and anxiety followed in yellow ranks. Are we getting the right deal, or are we being used in some strange way we’ve never been used before?

Many think the latter. A former leader has gone public, and all manner of signals indicate that party puritans don’t care for the compromises that Clegg has had to make in order to secure the one holy grail, the one policy meant to ensure greater Liberal influence in parliament from here on in – the referendum on electoral reform.

Without that promise of a referendum, there would be no Lib-Con coalition. This was the deal-breaker. In exchange, Clegg could swallow anything. He could swallow a VAT rise: like a snake (not that I see him as such, mind), he could extend his jaws to swallow just about every Conservative policy going in exchange for a deal on proportional representation, or something vaguely resembling it.

But no sooner was the announcement of a referendum date for the automatic run-off system announced (5 May 2011, if you’re wondering), and signs emerge that both of the established parties (Labour and the Tories, if you’re wondering) are in to quash it from the get-go.

Remember the negotiations that led to this government? Spooked by Clegg’s apparent partisan flirtatiousness, William Hague announced that, contrary to expectation, the Tories would concede to a referendum on the Alternative Vote – after all, why not let the people settle this argument?

Which people are these? The people in the 1922 Committee?

It is very clichéd to campaign on a “change” ticket, as the Tories did this year, and the hollowness of such a campaign is exposed by the power of vested interests, in both the Labour and Conservative parties. But, with both the Tories and Labour trying to appear as change-makers, it’s going to be difficult for them to go whole-hog anti-referendum. They have to appear willing to tolerate the possibility of real electoral reform. Skullduggery and obfuscation of the reforms will be subtle, backbench-led, and indirect.

This opposition is all bigger than Cameron – I don’t think he’s especially principled one way or the other on electoral reform. His speciality is speaking out of various sides of his mouth – he’ll do the minimum necessary to appease Liberals at one moment, but will be constantly prompted by the Thatcherite hawks in his coterie to change course whenever it’s politically feasible.

Here’s how I fear Clegg’s been screwed.

Cameron says to himself: “electoral reform” sounds zeitgeisty at election time, and Clegg was insistent upon it, ok, alright, let’s cope with that for now. But by mid-term or so, the public will have lost interest in things like ‘how elections work’ – the people will just be glad there isn’t another one soon.

By mid-term, we’ll have implicated them in loads of our horrifically unpopular policies – policies that especially outrage their base, and less so ours. They’ll be bleeding support to Labour, and into the ether, and the last thing they’ll want to do is walk out of the coalition and force an election. Great stuff. We can run the AV referendum aground with unreasonably high turnout thresholds, implementation red tape, and other thorny obstacles. What precisely will they be able to do about, chum?

If that is indeed Cameron’s thinking, then the Liberal Democrats will want to create space between themselves and the Tories soon. We haven’t seen them publicly disagree with the Bullingdon Boys on much of substance yet. This marriage will need to mature into allowing public disagreement on non-confidence issues, otherwise Clegg could well end up with a disillusioned base, tanking support, and an empowered 1922 Group who’ll get the wink from Cameron to kick electoral reform into the long grasses.

Filed under: Politics, UK, , , , , , , ,

Birds of a feather…

Can I make up an adage? “If you don’t water the grass, the roots will cause you problems.” Maybe it’s a real adage already, but in this hot English summer, I just thought it apt.

There’ve been elements of dissent in Lib Dem ranks since the coalition deal was first signed, but I suppose such dissent, however expertly quelled at first, was always more likely to increase over time, rather than diminish. Disputes over policy design will ensure that – and now that we’re out of the Rose Garden and into policy-making war rooms, evidence is mounting that the Parliamentary Lib Dem Party hasn’t been keeping its grassroots concerns very well watered.

This month’s Austerity Budget, with its projected million+ lost jobs, has almost certainly ratcheted up internal tensions. Nick and Danny, seemingly lost for words much of the time, are either implicit in the design of this job-slashing budget, or they’ve powerlessly acquiesced to it. It’s either active or it’s passive malevolence, so the Lib Dem base asks itself, and you can almost hear the votes bleeding out of Nick Clegg’s very pores.

David Cameron’s helping, too. He’s being very clear that the Liberals have lots of influence – that they are an “active partner.”

But of course! The PM is in a remarkable position: able to speak as though he’s shoring-up his oft-insecure coalition partners – but his intent is only to hang this budget around their necks too. “They aren’t just witnessing this butchering – no, no – they picked out the axe.”

This bird may not be flying with the flock

And so it is that the Liberals begin to, even accidentally, expose their frustrations. One small example: an upcoming 6 July 1 July local council byelection, right where I live. Our local Lib Dem candidate in Tulse Hill (Lambeth), Terry Curtis, has implored us (in a lovely, faux-hand-written letter!) to think this way:

“This election is not about the government – whether you love it or hate it! It’s simply about who is the best person to represent us on the Council.”

Shouldn’t Curtis want to say things like “The Lib Dems are a party on the rise, we’re in government for the first time, we’ve got a referendum on electoral reform, we’ve quashed the higher threshold for inheritance tax, we’ve got a hand in reviewing Trident, join us on this journey to a better future” etc. etc? No. He says “Never mind the government – it’s me personally you should focus on.”

The use of pretend hand-writing is a lovely communication tool (sweetly, it’s even on airmail blue paper, as though sent to me by a long-lost lover), but this explicit distancing from the government – of which his party is part – takes all the love away. It’s not the sign of a happy family, or that there is much confidence amongst the party’s grassroots that they’re getting things done in government that they’re proud of. Remarkable to be communicating in this way, not two months since the general election.

Sure enough, it’s a council byelection, and yes, let’s vote for the local candidate with local credentials, etc. etc. But a local Lib Dem concession of the “hateability” of the new government seems to betray a bit more Orange Anguish than I’m sure they intended.

There are growing pains in the party, sure – the country and the system is not used to coalitions, and party organisations aren’t used to seeing their erstwhile heroes nodding and smiling alongside erstwhile enemies.

My fear for Nick Clegg generally is that Orange Anguish will catch on and find its own minor leaders in the backbenches, and, encouraged by the discouraged local party organisations (evidently, Lambeth is one), HoC Lib Dem rebellions will begin to flower. They’ll be perpetrated by LD MPs seeking to restore public faith in some original and pure Lib Dem ideal – but the public will just see a party that’s not only “sold out,” but is also disorganised and riven by feuds. That will exacerbate the perception that “they don’t know what they stand for.”

Rightly or wrongly, it’s a perception that Opposition Labour will happily encourage. How the Tories will respond, god knows.

Filed under: Politics, UK, , , , , , , , ,

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