8 comments

  • >Oh the old 100 days motif; has been everywhere for about a fortnight now! I suspect the month of August (which is, as TS Eliot didn't write but probably should have, the dullest month) and Franklin Delano Roosevelt have a lot to answer for. I don't like the question (or I don't think it appropriate) because those 100 days are bookended by a handover of power and the beginnings of a long recess. It hasn't got going yet, nor should anyone expect it to have done.However, some observations. I predicted the coalition wouldn't last and that there would be an election within the year; a long way to go, but I think that I am wrong. I think that this is because the Lib Dem leadership is far more centre-right in outlook, particularly on the economy, than the membership. For evidence, you only need compare the sheer lack of dissent among the front bench (even someone as visibly uneasy with coalition, at least at the outset, as Cable) with the polling figures for the Lib Dems, which average out at about 12%. (And, indeed, the very open disquiet of Simon Hughes, who has essentially become the leader of the Lib Dem OPPOSITION, and several other backbenchers). The Liberal Democrats are a party in very serious trouble: there are many on the centre-left (and let us not forget that the last Lib Dem manifesto was, in many areas, far to the left of Labour) who will never forgive the party, while those more moderate members (the rump of 12%, I suppose) may well be challenged when the cuts start to hit (more on this later). Predictions are unbecoming in such uncharted times, but with a betting mentality, a tenner and decent odds I might venture a Lib Dem return in single figures in the next General Election. Not likely, but, at present, a damn sight more likely than them hitting sixty again any time soon I'd have thought. The party, at least as we know it, is, if not finished, seriously on the ropes. I have read that this decline of the Lib Dems might lead to formal merger and a realignment of the centre-right to keep Labour out for a generation. I don't buy it – the merger of the front benches is possible, but the Lib Dems are a centre-left party in terms of membership; the polls are proving that for whereas the Tories are essentially static on 37% rudderless Labour are now level with them having done, as HM Opposition, next to nothing. Which brings me to one of my more healthy predictions from four months ago – the next election will be Labour's to lose. The left has been split in this country for the last twenty or thirty years since the formation of the SDP in a way that the right has not; most of these disaffected Lib Dem voters will not vote Tory.

  • >Now, the coalition itself.I think the coalition agreement had much to admire – the pupil premium, the scrapping of ID cards and, however imperfect, the opening of constitutional reform. The agreement retains enough of the (often sound) Liberal Democrat manifesto and incorporates some of the more sensible Tory policies to have promise.The big bills so far have been disappointments. I have my scruples about free schools (to an extent about academies). Now, the holy grail is, of course a purely egalitarian system of public education where every child gets the same opportunity to reach their potential. I haven't a clue how to attain that, but nor does Michael Gove (regardless of what he thinks). I have problems with the bill's potential to empower the aspirational middle classes while leaving inner-city estates where there is less enthusiasm (my sister works in a school in a poor part of Hull where they don't even hold parents' evenings anymore, so poor was the turnout when they did; where, exactly, is the drive to set up and run a school here?) at the whims of charities or stuck in second-tier schools. However, my big problem is with the use of emergency legislation used to pass the Academies Bill, curtailing standing committee hearings and vital discussion. This was a profoundly undemocratic and, for such an important piece of flagship legislation, unforgivable move.Gove himself, as an aside, has gone from being the Tories' most assured minister to a gaffe-prone buffoon who has Ed Balls, of all people, running intellectual rings around him. My old politics teacher used to have us on 'watch' of certain ministers when, shark-like, he smelled blood. Gove has a lot of political capital to spare and his gaffes have, while numerous, been relatively minor. Still, I have a feeling that, 7 years after I and my peers were on 'Estelle watch', politics students at John Leggott College might be posted on 'Michael watch' by 2011.In terms of foreign policy, I have been most impressed with Cameron's words (too early for deeds). The 1940 gaffe (offensive to certain types for the duration of a breakfast, but ultimately a storm in a teacup) aside, his comments (and more importantly his position) regarding Turkey, Israel-Palestine and Pakistan have been both brave and bang on the money. I was surprised to see Cameron taking such a leading role in a department Hague runs like a personal fief, but credit where (I think) it is due.

  • >Now, it is, of course, the economy (stupid) that matters and did matter in April and May. Here is where the coalition will and ought to be judged, and the prognosis is worrying.There is obviously a division (apparently, full-on rows between Osbourne and IDS) between those who want to save money (Osbourne) and those who want to decentralise (Letwin and Blond-ite wonks). The two aren't mutually compatible, but in any case, it seems clear to me, that you do not cut public services during a recession (or slow recovery, which is what we have) without damaging the economy. The economy thrives on demand – demand has a positive impact on jobs, confidence, spending, jobs, confidence, spending and so on and on. The danger is, ultimately, inflation, but you deal with that when the economy's healthy. Now is all about growth and the Tories have, to my mind, got it all wrong and we are in danger of a double-dip recession. To top it all, the only significant tax rise is one (a regressive one at that) on consumption; they could not have it, to my mind, more wrong. They are at 180 degrees, completely upside down.Politically, I think the Tories are playing the game very well. The constant drip, drip, drip of 'efficiency savings' this and 'austerity' that has prepared and even reconciled people to cuts. Moreover, having an emergency budget, followed by a spending review, followed by a regular budget in March 2011 the Treasury is able to spread the pain and we are left, like the frog in the boiling water, oblivious until we boil. The emergency budget (20% VAT and public sector wage freeze the big headlines) has been followed by less unpopular cuts (Jeremy Hunt at culture has had a few slices at the BFI and museum funding already) before the big guns come out in October, but much deferred until next March. A combination of constant doom-laded rhetoric (mixed with veiled threats about Greece everytime Osbourne opens his mouth) and incremental pain lead to the general effect of 'it could be worse'. This won't last and is the big reason why this topic will be far more meaningful this Christmas, after the October review and its consequences start to bite just a little.The rhetoric, incremental cuts and resultant culture of penny pinching and preparing for the worse are exacerbating matters. People are saving more than ever, spending less and less (Asda the latest British retailer to be struggling – two consecutive quarters now) and consumer confidence by all indices has nosedived since May. People are spending less fuelled by grave expectations about employment and the economy as a whole. I'll say it again: you strengthen the economy by preserving demand; demand ensures employment; employment buttresses confidences, which ensures confidence, which leads to demand; all of which leads to growth. There may be a need for both spending cuts and decentralisation (I think, to be honest, that there is) but the *time* is not know. Time will tell and I hope I'm wrong; I fear I'm not.

  • >AHHH! I just lost everything I wrote! And I don't have time to write it again as I wrote loads.Basically Lib Dem leaders like Clegg and Huhne are seeming to represent the old Liberal Party, while figures like Hughes and Clegg may come to represent the old SDP. Both of the latter have already been severely dissapointed by the Coalition. In fact voters thought Cable was one of the Coalition's greatest assets, but he's had his two signature moves (a graduate tax and forcing the banks to lend more) turned down by the Conservatives.So no, it's not a match made in heaven, and I'm not sure whether Clegg's foolishly denying the effects this is having on the Lib Dems, or simply doing it to reassure people. Fractions have emerged in the Lib Dems and the referendum next year will be seen as approval or dissaproval of the Lib Dem's (and particularly Clegg's) actions.On the other hand the Conservatives are a little happier, but there is still a bit of dissent. I suspect they will stay in line however, as everybody knows that for the moment they have the power.I'll try and write more later as I know this doesn't do your response justice.

  • >I bet you want to throw your laptop out of the window.I always copy and paste into Word periodically when I write big posts now; learnt the hard way :(Basically Lib Dem leaders like Clegg and Huhne are seeming to represent the old Liberal Party, while figures like Hughes and Clegg may come to represent the old SDP.Who did you mean here? Cable? I know Clegg is accused of being Janus-faced but I guess you didn't mean to include him as an example of both camps.There were some concerns from the Tory backbenches and Cameron's moves to ensure Cabinet representation on the 1922 Committee were sternly repelled, but they do seem a fairly solid unit now. The vote is solid too and its core will remain.The big test, I think, is not these 100 Days but the first year, particularly the period after October by which time we'll have had detailed announcements of cuts (plus some implementations and their effects), a full (ish) session of legislation implementing a programme senior Tories evidently want to really accelerate, the AV referendum and a first routine budget, as well as various economic results and so on. Now is mostly speculation; next May we will have a pretty good idea of how this Coalition is likely to fare.

  • >oops, yes I meant Cable. I agree that the first year will definitely be the decider, and that it will come down to economics and the referendum (I don't think other reforms such as those in education will be big vote deciders because they won't have had time to have much effect still). If a strong majority says no to reform then it's feasible that the Lib Dems may drop out of the coalition, and the Conservatives call a snap election to try and gain an all out majority. And of course that means that Labour does still have a lot of ground to gain. You said the next one will be theirs to lose, but if that happens (I actually think the referedum will pass narrowly however) then it'll be a close run thing between Labour and the Conservatives.

  • >If the referendum fails (I'm not as confident as you) I think a lot depends on the backbenches. Clegg and co will, to a man I think, stick with the Coalition; whether the likes of Hughes do is quite another matter.If there is an election in, say, summer/autumn 2011 I think you're right and it could be quite tight. A lot will depend on the state of the economy (particularly the effects of coalition measures, notably cuts) and the extent to which the new Labour leader has bedded in in his first 9 months. A close one, certainly.

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