Perhaps it comes naturally to someone born a Liverpudlian but — without donning a shell suit (a la Harry Enfield) to cry “Calm Down, Calm Down” — the media village, so anxious for a scrap and the possible downfall of the Coalition, need to do just that.
There are those in the Whips’ offices of all parties who dream of colleagues meandering contentedly like a flock of docile sheep through the same voting lobby on every occasion.
There are those in the press offices of all parties who want nothing more than the bleating of on-message soundbites on every possible occasion. However, that’s not real-time politics. That’s certainly not Coalition politics!
There are arguments between politicians that should ideally take place in private, and arguments that must be aired in public. It is hard for cabinet ministers to do the former, and easy for backbenchers to do the latter. That, too, is normal.
Coalitions work off the back of personal chemistry, shared objectives and political necessity. Unity of purpose helps, but cannot always be guaranteed. However, what must be there, whatever the inherent tensions and indeed because of them, is competent government based on detailed planning and clear evidence. No rabbits, few hats, no panic.
Most, if not all, of the hiccoughs in the Coalition’s progress so far have been generated by occasional rushed, hard-to-explain actions rebounding to no party’s credit. The Schools Sports Partnerships is the latest and most universally acknowledged instance. True, the current financial plight of the country requires determined quick action, but there are other fears and motives around.
It has been seriously argued by some that the Coalition Government’s programme, based itself on a hastily established Coalition Agreement, must be very quickly put into action through legislation — even at the cost of leaving rough edges to be revisited at a later date. “Use political capital while you still have it,” they say.
One could point out, though, that hastily implementing a hastily-constructed Coalition Agreement, leaving a trail of issues to be resolved, is probably not a great way of gaining a reputation for competent government. Nor for that matter is it a great way of ensuring the desired harmony between coalition partners
Countries should always fear government by ‘old men in a hurry’. We, for obvious reasons, need not — but perhaps we should be on our guard against anyone airily offering us ‘revolution’, ‘transformation’ ,’liberation’ or the weary old cliche of ‘step change’. Anyone more interested in the headlines than the stubborn, practical realities of everyday life should go and work for a newspaper.
It may be a very ‘conservative’ attitude, but I do think there is an appetite now for humble, boring, serious, prosaic and — above all — efficient government. As we enter a new year (in the words and accent of Gary, Terry and Barry), “Calm Down, Calm Down!”
* John Pugh is Lib Dem MP for Southport.