Sunday, 26 August 2012

Steady Nerves in the Bleak Midwinter..

It may be the end of summer in climatic terms but in political terms, it's the bleakest of midwinters. As the Coalition approaches the halfway point of its existence, the voices ranged against it are cacophonous and growing. From those who never liked the idea of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats working together to those who claim that the Coalition  Experience has left them disillusioned, the siren calls for policy changes or for quick fixes to change the political dynamic are shrill and unyielding.

And yet...

It is the nature of supporting anything, whether a political party or a football team, to want it to be seen to be doing well. In political terms, the activist wants his or her party to be polling well and winning elections. When that isn't happening, there is a demand for change - something to be done to turn things round, a change of policy or a change of leader. Political activists hate low poll ratings and especially so when they have been used to higher numbers and losing elections when they have been used to winning them.

On the other hand, politics isn't like football. Sometimes, doing nothing is the right option and precipitent changes to achieve a short-term transitory improvement ultimately prove counter-productive.

Supporting the current Coalition would be easy if the economy was growing strongly and the polls were healthy but at the moment, the situation is quite different. The parties are tense and tetchy and activists within both parties who never wanted or liked the Coalition are calling the shots. Tories are actively pushing for Cameron to go and for Boris Johnson to take over and for the Coalition programme to be abandoned in favour of red-blooded Thatcherite policies involving tax cuts and much deeper spending cuts.

Abandoning the Coalition would be a catastrophe for both parties and for the ideals of plural politics and the notion of parties working together in the common interest. Both David Cameron and Nick Clegg have sacrificed much and arguably their own political careers to make the Coalition happen. There are those who argue that the Coalition has attempted to do too much too quickly and there's something in that. Politicians who have spent long periods in Opposition come into Government full of energy and ideas and in a positive economic environment, there is much which could have been done.

Unfortunately, as Liam Byrne advised, "there is no money left". That has left both Tories and Liberal Democrats frustrated not only by their inability to get anything radical progressed but also shackled to the legacy of Labour's economic failure. The crisis in the Eurozone has also hampered and stalled the recovery and while I suspect 2013 and 2014 will be better than some feared, the damage has arguably been done.

Not only will the deficit and debt remain a problem but most of the Coalition's good intentions will remain unfulfilled. That will be a unsatisfactory epitaph for the Coalition should it fail in 2015 and probably an undeserved one as well.

The point is now is not the time for frayed nerves and now is certainly NOT the time to pay heed to the siren voices of fracture and dissent. The Coalition needs to stay strong and mutually supportive. Yes, it involves two mutually competing parties but there is so much which transcends these petty differences and which is necessary for the national interest and resolving the many and varied problems.

It's the bleakest of midwainters now and spring seems far off and unpromising. I think much will change as we progress through 2013. The key electoral event is or will be the 2014 London local elections. IF Labour improves on its 2010 performance, the Coalition will be in serious trouble. IF the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats win seats back from Labour, the prospects for both parties in the following year's General Election will be much improved and I suspect talk of rifts and other leaders will be replaced by calls for continuity and the need to "finish the job".

I think the 2015 General Election will lead not to a majority Labour Government but to the continuation of the Coalition for a second term.

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