You may have had your demoiselle , sprig or sprog bring home a maths homework. Something like this:
The pour little brat then has to work out a whole series of pointless (indeed!) co-ordinates.
A year or two later, the geography teacher sends home the same exercise. Bit bigger brat has to interpret co-ordinates on a map. Since the maths and geography teachers are daggers drawn, the school doesn’t have an effective curricular map, and the National Curriculum doesn’t specify how to make the connection, it’s Yogi Berra’s déjà vu all over again.
Applying today’s lesson to political commentators
It used to be simple: left and right, readable and turgid.
Suddenly it’s got much more complicated.
Consider Iain Martin, usually to be found stabled at the Telegraph or, in his even more demotic moments, at the Mail (right, readable — somewhere around “A” on the matrix above). As a result of a useful piece on the highly-enjoyable, enforced self-defenestration of Chris Huhne, Martin is in some small spat with Mike Smithson at Political Betting (right, barely readable — let’s say “B” as above). Then there’s also John Rentoul at the Sindy tending away from Martin (Rentoul could possibly be “C”. Which, by default, leaves Malcolm at “D”. Hmmm …)
The tissue/issue before us is …
Will the ConDem coalition survive for the full five years? Will election day, as promised, be 7th May 2015?
Behind the public verbiage, Malcolm has the distinct impression that the Labour Party types have, quite literally in view of funding problems, been banking on precisely that. In that view, it oesn’t matter whether Ed Miliband cuts the mustard right now. Any opinion-polling is, at best, no more than trending; and at current percentages of 41, 40, 10 that’s one heck of a long way up from 29, 36, 23 in May 2010.
What matters is getting the little ConDem ducks in a line in forty months time.
So Martin’s thesis matters.
What put this into Malcolm’s [-3,-4] mind was (as they say on all the best ballot papers) “none of the above”. It was off-stage left, above the fold (a trifle populist, but say -2, +4) Kenny Farquharson in Scotland on Sunday. Farquharson uses the marital analogy to suggest:
What happens when marriages of convenience become inconvenient? No, this isn’t a question about the torrid revenge saga of Chris Huhne, his lover and his ex-wife.
This is a different marital conundrum, about a relationship at the heart of British politics that’s clearly in trouble. I believe David Cameron will decide well before the end of his five-year marriage of convenience with the Lib Dems that he wants out early. No doubt he will explain himself to Nick Clegg in the time-honoured way: “It’s not you, dear – it’s me.”
Looked at from a narrow Tory point of view – go on, try it – there’s a case for arguing the coalition has served its purpose. It was necessary in 2010 to put a Conservative prime minister into Number 10, but why prolong it? There will have to be a parting of the ways – politically, at least – in the run-up to a general election. So why not short-circuit the process and go to the country earlier?
That puts the grub on the table as robustly as one might expect in any Dundonian household.
Meanwhile the Tory press was queuing up this Sunday morning to put the same boot in. The Sunday Times bewailed that:
The Prime Minister’s problem is more basic. People no longer know what he stands for, if they ever did, and he is radiating weakness from Downing Street.
Actually, the whole Murdoch machine seems to be working up a fine froth over bankers’ bonuses, and how despicably wrong Downing Street has been not to ladle out mega-bucks. Sallies against Cameron should be read in that light. Watch for the Boris Johnson juggernaut’s wheels to be well greased in weeks to come, provided BoJo remains sound on boardroom lucre.
David Cameron’s leadership of the Coalition of Tories and Liberal Democrats has in many ways been outstandingly successful. The partnership is in good shape. There have been resignations from the Cabinet, such as Chris Huhne’s last week, but they have happened for personal rather than political reasons. On the whole, Mr Cameron has kept Conservatives and Lib Dems united, and prevented party divisions, historically the bane of coalitions in Britain, from damaging the Government.
Note the On the whole. Rapidly followed by up to a point and growing concerns. There are no fewer than seven concerns in this piece. Apart from that one and the sub-headline’s omnibus growing concerns among his supporters about the direction of his leadership, they deal with:
- foreign aid;
- the wider message the Government is sending to wealth creators (boardroom billionaires to you and the rest of humanity: see the wit and wisdom of Old Man Murdoch, above);
- wind-farms (albeit in a comment);
- nukes (ditto);
- his habit of watering down, or even ditching, proposals that he has brandished or actually put in place (ditto repeat, as Malcolm’s Mum would have said. That one has Europhobic undertones, of course).
Which covers an awful lot of waterfront.
What about Ben Brogan?
Well, Malcolm puts Brogan’s co-ordinates around +3, +4. He had a very Broganish piece earlier this last week, which may be the seed-bed from which these other commentators have plucked the thinnings. Brogan was essentially arguing that Cameron was intending to steal the middle political ground:
Backbenchers are nervous because they see the Liberal Democrats picking at the ties that bind them to the Coalition. Nick Clegg is pursuing a deliberate strategy of differentiation, to make sure voters notice his party. When, some Tories ask, is David Cameron going to do the same and reveal himself to the voters as a Conservative? When are we going to see some Tory differentiation?
Three events this week underscore why there is unmistakeable unease on the Tory side. The first was Mr Cameron’s equivocation on the issue of the £1 million bonus offered to the RBS boss, Stephen Hester. To Conservatives who believe in the basics of contracts, capitalism and confidence in the City, the Prime Minister’s intervention on the side of popular opinion driven by the anti-capitalist Left looked opportunistic and weak. Above all, it looked like pandering to the campaign against wealth being waged by Mr Clegg. Second, last night’s calculated stripping of Fred Goodwin’s knighthood will compound that impression of a Conservative doing fundamentally un-conservative things. And the third culminated yesterday in Mr Cameron’s statement to the Commons on the outcome of the eurozone negotiations. Tory backbenchers competed to ask him why he had given ground substantially on the workings of the new treaty, just weeks after vowing to stand firm. Again, the charge in the air was pointed: having basked in their support when he delivered his “No!” to the EU, he now preferred to curry favour with Mr Clegg by compromising.
Re-reading that suggest the true Tory requires big bucks for bankers, respec’ for the honours system, staunch and unbending Euroscepticism, and heavy dissing of the LibDems and the anti-capitalist Left (on which latter point Malcolm mutters, “If only …”.
The Big One
Malcolm remains convinced what will break the ConDems is Europe.
So Malcolm will be watching one spot with considerable interest. For convenience, he happily lifts this summing up from a New Statesman piece by Samira Shackle:
George Osborne has said that Britain could provide more funds to the IMF if there is a “strong case” for an increase. Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the Chancellor said that he would consider increasing Britain’s contributions above the £10bn extra already pledged, if there were adequate reassurances.
This is nothing new: Osborne has been laying the foundations for an increased British contribution for a while. It’s vital for Britain that the IMF has enough cash to help struggling eurozone countries, because of our geographical position and trade links with Europe. But David Cameron gained some serious brownie points with his party when he opted out of further contributions to the eurozone bailout, and it will be difficult for the government to sell this as anything but propping up the eurozone by another name.
There is no way that cannot go before the Commons. On what has been already said, there is little chance of Labour not opposing any transfer to a eurozone support-fund, however it is filtered through the IMF. The Tory press will not wear a bail-out either. The Tory Whips will have sleepless nights. On this one Clegg and the LibDems have a magnificent chance to “differentiate” themselves from the Tory revanchists.
Memo to self:
On 25th October 2011, 79 Tories voted against the Whip for an EU referendum. Add two tellers. A further fifteen abstained. That’s half the backbench parliamentary party.
The next General Election may be sooner than we have thought.