Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Shifting Sands

Whether the Coalition Government will survive until May 2015 has been one of the questions posed by political pundits since it was formed in 2010.  My gut feeling is that it will be that the relationship between the two unequal partners will change the closer we get to 2015 but that it will survive in some form or another.  Yesterday’s speech by Nick Clegg, a leader whose political star has now sunk so low that it is almost imperceptible, appeared to take the line that ‘if it wasn’t for the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives would have made even greater cuts to the welfare budget and to public services’.  He may well be right but it’s an incredibly weak argument to say you can thank us that things aren’t worse when the public think that they are bad enough already.  So vote Liberal Democrat because the others would be worse is hardly a recipe for electoral revival!! 

As for the Conservatives, well electorally in as bad a place and in the shire constituencies threatened by UKIP especially if it persists with David Cameron’s morally right but politically inept desire to introduce gay marriage.  Whatever the justifications for gay marriage as opposed to civil partnerships and there are many, it was not in the Conservative manifesto in 2010 and in the midst of economic crisis it appears to have little resonance with the public. I can’t see any electoral advantage to be gained by pursuing it at this time, not that politics should be all about electoral gain.    Prime Ministers do have to make decisions that the public may not like and their parties find unpalatable, that’s what leadership is all about.  The problem is that the ‘Westminster village’ is becoming increasingly divorced from the realities of people’s lived experience and with their political aspirations.  If you’ve lost your job, your benefits have been cut and the local government services you used have been closed, gay marriage really is an irrelevance.

There have been two seminal events in British politics in the past fifty years.  The Profumo Scandal in 1963 shattered what was left of the mystique of British government as the press circled the declining power of Harold Macmillan’s Conservative government.  The bank crisis and the MPs’ expenses scandal after 2008 reinforced the public’s view that politicians had little control over global crises and that their primary motivation appeared to be self-aggrandisement at the public’s expense.  That most MPs had acted honourably did not make up for the malfeasance of the minority.  The result is a ‘crisis of governance’ as states adopt policies that have little popular support justifying them as being ‘for the greater good’.  The chimera of representative government has been exposed and increasingly there are calls for a ‘new settlement’ between the people and the state in which the responsibilities of the people and the nature of the modern state are redefined. 

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