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5 Minute Tute: Two Years of The Coalition

David Rennie debates the future of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition
David Rennie on Thursday 3rd May 2012
Cameron in the driving seat
Photograph: UK in France

After the last election, there are now more first time MPs than there have been for decades. How has this affected the government?

The key point is that there is now a huge cohort of young MPs who have no chance of becoming ministers in this Parliament, not least because cabinet is now split between the Conservatives and the Lib Dems. After the expenses scandal, a lot of the safe seats that the parties use to parachute favoured candidates into Parliament were flushed out, so the new MPs tend to feel like they got in on their own, rather than through the party machine - they aren't easily cowed. The main consequence of this is that there's a lot more intellectual foment going on; there are many new factions debating public sector reform and regulation, asking how to adapt to a post-boom Britain in which the old mix of social democracy and deregulation doesn't work any more. It's an unrulier, more intellectual Parliament.

How are the Conservatives and Lib Dems adapting to a coalition?

First, it's worth saying that it’s really voters who are failing to adapt to a coalition. No one understands power-sharing; voters claim that they like it in abstract but, at the same time, say that they don’t want politicians to compromise their beliefs, despite the fact that you can't have one without the other. Within the coalition, the main issue is the tendency among some Tories to blame the Lib Dems for the failure of right-wing policies on Europe and immigration, but really, they’re just using them as a proxy for reality. The government hasn't withdrawn from the EU or banned immigration because they're unrealistic and unworkable ideas, not because of the Lib Dems. At the same time, there is fear among hardcore Conservatives that Cameron is using the Lib Dems for cover as well. They worry that he uses compromise within the coalition as a pretext to get away with advancing the centrist, relatively liberal policies that he actually believes in. Clegg and Cameron's inner circles are quite close in terms of policy, which is creating a lot of suspicion on the fringes.

Whatever happened to Cameron's Big Society?

I think that the wisdom of crowds showed through here; everyone sensed that something just wasn't quite right with the Big Society, that the idea of using charities and volunteers to take over public services just didn't quite add up. What was missing was that the entire programme depended on privatisation to work, which Cameron wasn't brave enough to admit. Now we're seeing a backlash as the privatisation elements of reform to everything from the NHS to forests come to light, which Cameron spent more time trying to hide than to justify. Ultimately, no one believed that ‘society’ would take over government business, because it simply wasn't true. The Liberal Democrats have probably lost their core vote. How are they planning to survive the next election? The Lib Dems did well as a rallying point for protest votes for a while, and although they have lost the student and eco-pacifist voting blocks, they want to believe that the coalition has given the party a chance to prove that they are more than just a protest party. Party insiders say that if the economy recovers it will prove that they are competent in government, but nicer than the Conservatives. They argue that softer, liberal Tory voters, who don't hold particularly conservative values but don't trust Labour's economics, really belong with the Lib Dems, but are afraid of wasting their votes. The Lib Dems hope to draw in at the next election by proving in government that they can actually run a country. Whether they manage to do so will determine whether the party can make it through the next general election.

The Liberal Democrats have probably lost their core vote. How are they planning to survive the next election?

 The Lib Dems did well as a rallying point for protest votes for a while, and although they have lost the student and eco-pacifist voting blocks, they want to believe that the coalition has given the party a chance to prove that they are more than just a protest party. Party insiders say that if the economy recovers it will prove that they are competent in government, but nicer than the Conservatives. They argue that softer, liberal Tory voters, who don't hold particularly conservative values but don't trust Labour's economics, really belong with the Lib Dems, but are afraid of wasting their votes. The Lib Dems hope to draw in at the next election by proving in government that they can actually run a country. Whether they manage to do so will determine whether the party can make it through the next general election.nment business, because it simply wasn't true. The Liberal Democrats have probably lost their core vote. How are they planning to survive the next election? The Lib Dems did well as a rallying point for protest votes for a while, and although they have lost the student and eco-pacifist voting blocks, they want to believe that the coalition has given the party a chance to prove that they are more than just a protest party. Party insiders say that if the economy recovers it will prove that they are competent in government, but nicer than the Conservatives. They argue that softer, liberal Tory voters, who don't hold particularly conservative values but don't trust Labour's economics, really belong with the Lib Dems, but are afraid of wasting their votes. The Lib Dems hope to draw in at the next election by proving in government that they can actually run a country. Whether they manage to do so will determine whether the party can make it through the next general election.

 

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