Today, Nick Clegg declared an end to the Liberal Democrats’ fight for House of Lords reforms during this Parliament. Following the brazen refusal of Tory backbenchers to toe the party line and honour the coalition agreement, and Labour’s justifiable, yet still suspiciously partisan, no vote to setting a clear timetable for Lords reform, the Lib Dems now consider any continued push for reform at the present time to simply be fighting a losing battle. The problem that the prime minister will now face, in response to Clegg’s speech, is that, having now conceded defeat to his own backbenchers, how can he first, restore his reputation as in control, and secondly, prove to Clegg and the Lib Dems as a whole that the coalition can continue to work effectively in the interests of both the country and the Lib Dems.
Firstly, the Tory rebellion was the explosion outwards of Tory backbench frustration at the Lib Dem ‘wagging’ of the coalition tail. It has been a constant complaint from Tory backbenches that the Lib Dems have far too much influence upon government policy considering the disproportionately few number of seats that they contribute to the government’s majority in the Commons. Therefore, when a bastion of conservatism, the House of Lords, one of the final two seats of British government’s unelected officials, came under threat, Tory backbenchers reverted to type and refused to, in Clegg’s strong words ‘honour the coalition agreement’. All this suggests that David Cameron lacks real control over the Tory party, particularly with his arch-nemesis Boris Johnson waiting in the wings, basking in the glory of the London Olympics as well as the failings of Cameron and Osborne.
Furthermore, on the back of Tory rebellion, Cameron is now being confronted with a rebellion from his coalition partners, not just from the backbenches but even amongst the Lib Dem’s most senior members and government ministers. Indeed, Clegg himself today said that his party would be instructed to oppose the Tory plans to gerrymander constituency boundaries (as if they’d need any instructing at the moment). All this bodes unwell for the coalition.
Therefore, Cameron, despite finding himself stuck between rebelling Tory backbenchers and rebellious Lib Dems has to take drastic action to repair his personal image as well as that of the coalition. Initially, Cameron must make it clear to the Lib Dems that, despite being forced to accept their rebellion regarding constituency changes (a damaging blow to the Tories who would have gained exttra seats in the next general election had the changes passed through Parliament), he cannot accept frequent rebellion. He has the power to do so, as both parties know that a collapse in the coalition would be disastrous for both, leaving behind a frail, powerless government and the possibility of a destructive early election for all involved. Two parties that so “heroically” came together in the ‘interests of the public’ cannot now jump overboard petulantly at the first sign of choppy waters.
However, Cameron will be well aware that he has to placate the angered Lib Dems, whose centrepiece policy will now be lost amongst the turbulent seas of coalition. With Cameron’s personal standing plummeting alongside the British economy, perhaps now is the time for Cameron to take the boldest move of his political career and consign his long-term personal friend, but hangman of British economic recovery, George Osborne, the chancellor, to the dustbin. Currently, Osborne is probably the one man more hated at the top end of British politics than Cameron himself. Furthermore, his obstinancy in the face of mounting economic problems, means that Osborne has tied himself to the mask of a shinking ship, one that Cameron can only save by changing economic course, an impossibility under Osborne’s leadership. Cameron’s only hope of maintaining a Tory role in government in 2015 and beyond is to save the British economy, and therefore, for the sake of his leadership Plan A must be rethought, even if this does mean stabbing Osborne in the back (after all Osborne isn’t even popular within the Tory party anymore).
If Cameron did grow the balls to finally ditch the troubled Osborne the question would remain of who to replace him with, an answer that I think lies in the placation of the Lib Dems. The one member of the British government, who in the eyes of the public, still retains a shred of respect is Vince Cable, the man who foresaw the global economic collapse, bashes the bankers and Murdoch and is the darling of the Lib Dems. This move would not only give the coalition a boost with the voters, Cable being a man much more in favour with voters than Osborne, but also cheer the Lib Dems and allow for a change in economic course.
Surely now it is time for Cameron to wake up to the dangers of retaining Osborne as chancellor and save the coalition at the same time.