The Coalition Cold War threatens to heat upPosted on January 1, 2011
The “Cold War” was a relative term. In reality, it was quite a hot conflict; decades of fighting-by-proxy from the mujahideen thrashing the Russians out of Afghanistan to the CIA and KGB-sponsored bush wars of sub-Saharan Africa cost hundreds of thousands of lives. But compared to thermonuclear heat that could have been unleashed, it was still considered a “cold” war.
I wonder where on the Hot or Cold scale the relationship between the wings of the Coalition would now register?
It was back in July that Conservative Home’s Paul Goodman wisely identified that this is a Coalition of three partners, not two. Those three are the left of the Lib Dems, the right of the Conservatives and the fused leadership group around Nick Clegg and David Cameron.
Some friction between those three elements is inevitable. Like a car driving a long journey, using the engine damages the parts but that can’t be helped if you want to get to your destination. This attrition can only end in one of three ways:
1) the driver decides to stop early. In this scenario, Cameron and/or Clegg choose to go their separate ways. Despite Tom Watson’s scurrilous rumour-mongering about Conservative plans for a May election, this is incredibly unlikely. There’s nothing for them to gain from giving up power after they struggled and haggled so hard to build the Coalition in the first place. If the driver chooses to stop early, then he’s left sitting on the hard shoulder halfway to his destination.
2) the car engine shakes itself apart. Either the Left of the Lib Dems or the Right of the Conservatives hits a sticking point beyond which they will not go, and the coalition shatters. Without taking great care, this looks increasingly possible. The number of rebellions from the Conservative backbenches is rising and their is more than a little justification in their complaint that their demands of proper action on the EU, strict law and order policies or the delivery of tax cuts through further spending cuts have been left unfulfilled, compared with the indulgence shown to the Lib Dem Left.
3) with care and plenty of oiling, the car makes it the whole way to its destination. This is the option the leadership clearly prefer, but it will take great care to achieve it. Every part in the Coalition machine must be cared for, reassured and well-lubricated by giving them some wins on the issues dearest to their hearts. If that can be achieved, then the Coalition should last for a full term – though I doubt it will endure beyond that.
At the moment, I fear there are signs that while the Government is nowhere near option 1, and clearly wants to go for option 3, it is creeping closer to option 2. The friction in their engine is building, some parts are starting to overheat and insufficient oil has been applied to make things run smoothly.
To an extent, this is because the Tory backbenches are feeling taking for granted. While the Lib Dems had to swallow tuition fees, that was one unpalatable gulp while the Conservatives feel they are being forced to eat mouthful after mouthful of unsatisfactory policy.
Worse, they are starting to feel actively disliked by their own side. Sayeeda Warsi’s attack on what she and the BBC termed “the Right” as supposedly being lazy when it comes to campaigning wasn’t helpful – even thought it may well have been off the cuff rather than a prepared line.
None of this is being helped by the (entirely predictable) bad grace of the Lib Dem left wingers. The Conservatives helped the Lib Dems out of hole in Oldham East and Saddleworth by effectively lending them thousands of votes, saving the party’s face. But are they grateful? Of course not – like the French attitude to Britain after World War Two, it seems that if anything they resent the people who saved their skins.
I like many of the things the Coalition are doing, particularly on civil liberties, quangos and localism. Even on the areas where I think they should go further, such as public spending, or the areas where they haven’t done anything meaningful, like the EU, it’s clear that the alternative – a Labour or Lib/Lab Government – would be far, far worse. It won’t help anyone if this car breaks down early. Some oil and TLC are necessary to make sure that happens.
Tags: Coalition, Cold War, Conservative Home, Conservatives, David Cameron, EU, Freedom, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Nuclear War, opinion, Parliament, Paul Goodman, Politics, public spending, Socialism, Westminster