What a busy few days: political names falling
Wait! Dodgy comparison here: those were the fallen angels Milton consigned to Hell. And they were thick, not politicians. Never mind, same difference.
So, with all the excitement (Alan Johnson, Balls, Yvette, Blair, Coulson, and now Cowen on the edge), it took Malcolm a while to bother with Nick Robinson’s Friday post. He starts:
Do you remember where you were when Peter Lilley was replaced by Francis Maude? What do you mean Peter who? It was a big moment. No really it was.
Well, yes, if pushed Malcolm can just about recall that yawn-inducing moment. But then Malcolm is a politics junkie.
Robinson’s point is this:
will the replacement of Alan with Labour’s other Ed matter as much as we news boys have said it will? Or could it be that we’re still addicted to reporting on Labour? … we all know the plot of the nation’s favourite political soap opera, don’t we? But could these guys be the Messrs Lilley and Maude of today?
Robinson then resiles:
I think we are right to be excited by this shadow cabinet reshuffle. The economy is the central issue of the day. Who is right and who is wrong about the deficit, tax and spending will not just define our political future but many people’s personal futures.
There is a profound difference between Lilley and Maude in 1998 and Johnson and Balls today.
The Labour Government then was sitting on a majority of 179; and clearly would not be displaced within two parliaments or more. The Tories were a reduced rump of just 165 MPs. Everyone knew that the Tory Shadow Cabinet was an irrelevance. Lilley’s biggest fan was himself: he never recovered from the bathetic parody of The Mikado he essayed at the 1992 Tory Conference. Maude is the good-living, upright, “family-friendly”, multi-millionaire who fronted a porn business. If they didn’t deserve ignorance of their existence, they earned their ignominy.
Today the Tory-led Government has a working majority; but it is an unsettled beast. LibDems lie in their teeth about how agreeable the coalition experience is; but only the few with ministerial red boxed are convincing. Meanwhile the Tories barely conceal their contempt for their LibDem partners; and openly hug themselves at the discomfit of Laws or Vince Cable. It required a self-induced Tory humiliation at the Old & Sad by-election to save Clegg’s face. The old schisms (Europe by tradition and above all) have not gone away. This is not a stable government.
Similarly, compare the Tory plight of 1998 with Labour in 2011. There is a remarkable confidence about the Labour opposition: members have been flooding in to the wider party, many are reinvigorated returnees, others are disillusioned Lib Dems: both categories are well-versed in electioneering. Despite the sniping that is aimed at Ed Miliband, he is knocking lumps off Cameron in every confrontation: not enough for the Tory press to declare he has won the bout, but enough to unsettle the PM. And when Cameron is unsettled, he gets loud, bullying and spiteful. The image, one that Peter Brookes exploits tirelessly, that does not go away is Cameron as Harry Flashman. That is why an anecdote re-emerged in the last couple of days: Malcolm saw it as far back as December 2005:
this morning … The Sun’s business editor Ian King described the party leader in waiting David Cameron as a “poisonous, slippery individual” – highlighting the time Cameron was PR man for “the world’s worst TV company” Carlton in the 1990s. “He was a smarmy bully who regularly threatened journalists who dared to write anything negative about Carlton – which was nearly all of us.”
There is another profound difference between 1998 and 2011 (see right), as headlined by YouGov’s Anthony Wells, at his UKpollingreport site. That is, it goes without saying, a notional figure. What is not is the depths to which confidence in the economic management by the Tory-led coalition has fallen, and the speed thereof. Wells again:
… note the questions on the economy – 78% think the current state of the economy is bad, one of the worst since the general election. The feel good factor (those thinking the economy will get better over the next 12 months minus those who think it will get worse) is minus 55, the second worse it’s been since the election. As we saw during the last Parliament, economic optimism does have a significant impact upon voting intention, that won’t have been the case so much since the election because the economic state will have been seen as something the government inherited, but over time the relationship will have started to build up again.