Some of the coalition’s most vocal detractors come from within. But Cameron and Clegg’s foes aren’t strong enough to trouble them yetby Anne McElvoy / August 25, 2010 / Leave a comment
Published in September 2010 issue of Prospect Magazine
Political parties are the most ungrateful entities in the known world—with the salient exception of children. Thus the coalition passed its 100 days with high public ratings and a chorus of disapproval from within the two parties. The more the public settles into a life with the ying-yang government, the more insistent the sniping at Westminster.
Some Lib Dem activists are planning to use their conference to urge members not to send their children to one of Michael Gove’s promised new free schools. So we will have a boycott preceding the arrival of the thing being boycotted.
Meanwhile unquiet Tory souls, like the renegade David Davis, sneer at the Brokeback Mountain-style coupling of Clegg and Cameron, with the sinuous inference that it is an unnatural alliance and not good for the wholesome Tory community.
How strong are the detractors’ arguments? Underlying the Lib Dem disagreements is the unresolved question of what liberalism is. To Simon Kovar in The Liberal magazine, it is grounded in great historical advances—the 1906 government and the 1945 election victory on the back of the ideas of the intellectual “midwives” Beveridge and Keynes. He complains that since the rise of Clegg and his Orange Book tribe, who saw their task as redefining modern liberalism as less statist: “The Liberal Democrats made a net gain of just ten seats.” This year, they gained a mere 1 percentage point rise in the vote and lost a net five seats. On this logic, the rise of the “neo-liberal” wing of the party has been a disaster.
We can of course only imagine the vast advances which might have been secured by the party turning to the left. But the trend for Labour suggests otherwise.
Brass tacks time. Without the triumph of the Orange Book brigade, liberals would be most unlikely to be sharing power now. What critics of the modest electoral improvement of the third party often seem to want is an incremental improvement in performance—without ever arriving at…