Politicians in different parties disagree in lead-up to elections, not many hurt

    Today the world of politics was rocked to its foundations by revelations that, with just 10 campaigning days to go before crucial elections and the first national referendum in a generation, rival Liberal Democrat and Conservative politicians are openly disagreeing with each other.

    “We just never expected this,” confided one insider. “We all thought that once there was a Coalition they would agree on everything all the time. To see them carrying on like this, it’s almost as if there are fundamental disagreements of principle and policy separating them.”

I’m afraid I can’t find it in myself to join in the breathless speculation of political journalists that Nick Clegg’s interview in today’s Indy on Sunday (Deputy PM rages against Cameron ‘lies’), or Vince Cable’s rallying call to voters to approve AV to end Tory hegemony , somehow signal the beginning of the end of the Coalition.

The reality is, surely, a lot simpler, a lot more straightforward:

    1. We are less than a fortnight away from vital elections. With low turn-out likely, the success of the respective parties’ get-out-the-vote operation will be crucial. Fundamental to that is motivating your base. That is why David Cameron has been pitching to the right-wing nut-job vote in recent weeks. It is also why Vince on Friday, Nick on Saturday, and Simon Hughes today have been reminding voters that the Lib Dems are a distinct, progressive voice — part of the Coalition, yes, but not joined at the hip to the Tories.

    2. No-one seriously doubts the Coalition will survive whatever happens on the 5th May. It is precisely because the Coalition isn’t fragile that poltiicians at the top are feeling free to speak out. Does anyone seriously think that if the survival of the Government were teetering on the brink, Messrs Cameron, Clegg, Hague and Cable would be making speeches and giving media interviews which paint up the differences as clearly as they are? No, if the Coalition were in real jeopardy you’d be seeing a concerted spin operation to shore it up. Its solidity is what is giving its partners the freedom to shake it a little, to indulge in some loose-talk.

    3. Clearly this is a strategy which has been explictly discussed and authorised right at the very top. Does it matter if Nick and Dave are ‘bessy mates’? No. It’s clear, though, they have an effective working relationship, and it’s also clear they both understand each other’s predicament. It helps David Cameron to have his Lib Dem partner accuse him of being right-wing; just as it’s helpful to Nick Clegg to be able to distance himself from his Tory partner.

    4. Most crucially, neither the Lib Dems nor Conservatives have any compelling reason to want to end the Coalition now. Mark Pack’s “seven reasons the Coalition will last” still applies — to which I would add an eight: look at the polls. It’s obvious to anyone the Lib Dems would not want a general election now. But the Tories have little to gain either. Would David Cameron win outright? Maybe, but probably not. And it’s hard to see him surviving as leader twice, having each time failed to lead his party to victory. Quite simply, the Coalition will survive for at least as long as it’s in both partners’ interests for it to do so (and probably for a bit longer than that out of good old-fashioned politeness).

    5. Oh, and one other thing worth noting about the focus on the Coalition parties: the Labour party is an irrelevant side-story just now.

I have said ever since the Coalition started that the ‘Westminster village’ media has never quite got its head around having two parties forming one government, implementing a core programme, while agreeing to disagree on other issues.

The excitability of today’s coverage — on a day I hope most folk are finding better things to do than obsess about political posturing — suggests commentators are no nearer understanding the Coalition.

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8 Comments

  • Tony Greaves 24th Apr '11 - 4:38pm

    I think the point is rather different. The No Campaign – run by Tories with Tory money – have been shown to be not telling the truth in a big way. Right-wing populist lies would describe it reasonably.

    What is more it appears thart Cameron has broken a promise he made to Clegg not to play a prominent part in the No campaign.

    I suggest that the nature of the relationship between Cameron and Clegg, and the terms of debate within the coalition, may have changed significantly. To our benefit.

    Tony Greaves

  • The gist of this article is clearly correct but you do have to wonder what the atmosphere will be like when the coalition parties recouple on the 6th.

  • Paul Kennedy 24th Apr '11 - 10:20pm

    Given what Tony says, our message should be simple: a No vote is a vote for the Tories (and the BNP).

    We’ve nothing to lose through emphasising this association, because the Tories are already working hard to get their vote out for No.

    And we win both ways: Labour voters on the estates finally see past Murdoch’s lies and vote Yes, and soft Tories (and even some Labour supporters whose local MP is supporting No) are so disgusted by the lies of the Tory-funded No campaign that they vote Yes and Lib Dem.

  • conservative 25th Apr '11 - 11:24am

    @ Paul Kennedy

    I think that might be wishful thinking…

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Apr '11 - 4:23pm

    For all the nasty lying nature of the “No” campaign, the “Yes” campaign has left us open to this by the poor way it has been run.

    Right at the start I wrote in these columns how I felt the best approach would be to keep to a simple straightforward factual explanation of AV, explain how it removes the “don’t split the vote” fear, but also how it falls short of what we really want, which is STV. The point is that the “No” people can’t argue against the facts, and I don’t agree with them that AV is “mind boggling” and so cannot be explained to ordinary people.

    Instead, all we have had from the “yes” campaign is vague and exaggerated claims about what AV might achieve, which makes it look no different from the other side – a bunch of politicians full of platitudes whose only real desire is to have whatever benefits them personally.

    As with the whole coalition thing, someone with real political nous ought to have been able to anticipate the lines that would be used against us and so put up the defences against them well in advance. Just why are we so badly led? Who are these people at the top making all these bad decisions? Is the problem too many unpaid interns where the main qualification to get the job is to have the right family connections rather than real commitment to the party and knowledge on what works?

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