Friday, 13 July 2012
Bag of Spanners
Most politicians like to think of themselves as clever clogs - but in my experience they can often be as dumb as a bag of spanners.
Here's an article from Martin Kettle writing in the Guardian - to illustrate my point perfectly.
Labour says it is is favour of reforming the House of Lords - yet the party failed to strike a blow in anger during 13 years in power at Westminster - when it enjoyed an overall parliamentary majority, of course.
Now I don't have any truck with the Tories - or the Lib Dems for that matter - but the realities of coalition politics and a hung parliament are there for all to see - a new election won't change the economic outlook.
Labour of course doesn't really care - even though a Labour government would still cut public spending by £7 out every £8 - compared to the present lot.
So we're back to the same old Punch and Judy politics of yesteryear - we know what all the parties are against, i.e their political opponents.
But it's not quite so clear what they stand for anymore - except that everything would be so very different - if only they had a parliamentary majority all of their own.
All I have to say is that if you believe that - you'll believe anything.
School-of-Brown politics is as destructive as ever
The reform bill fiasco has vindicated the militant oppositionism embodied by Ed Balls, and may yet threaten the coalition
by Martin Kettle
Without a timetable motion, the Lords reform bill is as unsustainable as the devolution bill was 35 years ago.'
A faltering government in worsening economic times, open splits in the main political parties, an underestimated new opposition leader doing well, a prime minister less than enthusiastic about his own government's big constitutional bill, an easy second-reading majority in the Commons undermined by defeat on a timetable motion, rising stars on the backbenches turning into serial rebels, the administration gradually but inexorably unwinding.
Sounds familiar? It ought to. Many of these things have happened this week to David Cameron's coalition government over House of Lords reform. But they all also happened 35 years ago to James Callaghan's Labour government over devolution. It is not a happy parallel for the coalition to be compared with a government that, unjustly in some ways, has become a byword for lost authority and whose defeat paved the way for nearly 20 years of hegemony by its opponents.
There are lessons from 1977 as well as parallels. Some of these were well learned by the Blair government in 1997. Put big constitutional reform on the agenda at the start of a parliament when authority is high, not halfway through, when authority is slipping away. Hold a referendum first, on the principle of the thing, so that MPs are cowed and rebels have less room to make mischief. Don't go to a referendum afterwards, when the vote becomes a verdict on the government not the reform. Nick Clegg should have learned from that.
If 1977 is a good guide, the House of Lords reform bill is in effect dead now. Without a timetable motion of the kind that Cameron withdrew on Tuesday, the reform bill is as unsustainable as the devolution bill was 35 years ago. There is a clear majority in the Commons for change, but not for making it happen. That means it is going nowhere. There are lots of people to blame for this. But blaming them won't make things turn out differently now.
Second chance? Little chance. On Tuesday morning Cameron pleaded with Nick Clegg to withdraw the timetable motion in the hope that opponents could be won round over the summer. Clegg agreed. What else could he do? Cameron now has two months to convince enough of his jaw-dropping total of 110 backbench rebels (those who voted no or abstained on the second reading) to back down. His allies claimed yesterday that 50% of them can be won round. A cornucopia of possible concessions are already under review.
No one is holding their breath, though. Some, but not many, Tory rebels will return to the coalition fold, Conservative ministers say. But with Labour refusing to support it, not even Lib Dem cabinet ministers think a second timetable motion will succeed in September where July's failed. The Tories just don't feel the coalition agreement belongs to them, says one. "We're not going to wait indefinitely for them to change their minds," says a minister. September will be "piss or get off the potty time". The rose garden is very distant now. Probably best to move on.
Is this the beginning of the end for the coalition? Unknowable, replies a Cameron loyalist Tory minister. "Rebellion is like adultery," he reflects. "It's a big thing the first time. Later it becomes a bit easier, perhaps even ends up as a habit." But it also creates a sense of guilt, he adds, and that can be played on. The rebels have made their point. They have shown they are not stooges. Now it's time to talk to them. But not to Jesse Norman.
Even so, this minister says, the coalition mood has been blacker in the past. It was blacker when Clegg condemned Cameron's European veto back in December. And last month too, when the Lib Dem leader told his MPs to abstain on Labour's attack on the culture secretary Jeremy Hunt. There is less rancour this time, perhaps more regret, and a common determination not to let the coalition come apart.
Failure in September means there will be some tit-for-tat, however. Unless Cameron can talk his rebels round, the new boundary changes look dead. The Lib Dems will almost certainly vote against them when the moment comes. That's a big incentive to Cameron to win over his rebels. The boundaries are central to the Tories' strategy for 2015. Wrecking that plan is a huge prize for Labour and helps explain, though not excuse, Labour's reactionary voting this week on the timetable motion.
All the talk about a coalition 2.0 has gone out of the window. Nevertheless, Cameron and Clegg have a choice. Either they fire more and more missiles at each other, the coalition becomes meaningless, and there is an early election. That would be mutually assured destruction – look at the polls to see if either man wants that.
Or they patch things up, with Cameron reasserting a more centre-ground Tory strategy and the Lib Dems digging in on what David Laws has called a more transactional economic and social agenda. In reality, it's a no-brainer. Both Cameron and Clegg have a huge interest in the coalition running its full term. So, in a non-partisan sense, does anyone who thinks coalition politics may be becoming a fact of political life.
Even Labour may have an interest in working coalitions one day. That is not the party's mood today, however. The last two years, and this week in particular, have been a huge vindication of the militant oppositionism embodied by Ed Balls and underwritten by most of the unions. Gordon Brown himself may have left the stage, but school-of-Brown politics is proving what Americans learned long ago – that a good negative campaign will always beat a good positive one.
As a destructive school of politics, Brownism has few equals. What a record it can boast. It has destroyed the John Major government, the Tony Blair government and the Gordon Brown government, and it is now well on the way to destroying the David Cameron government too. Its problem, as the Brown government itself showed so spectacularly, is that it lacks a sustainable governing project of its own, particularly a governing economic project, that the party can love.
Nor does Brownism have any conception of the national good that is not strictly predicated on its own power. That is why, ultimately, Labour will not reform the Lords except on its own terms. But these are matters for another day, if at all. Why change a winning formula now?