It’s exciting, isn’t it? I mean, who knows what will happen to the coalition in the years ahead?
Well, since you ask, just about anyone who knows how to read a newspaper or who has a TV. I mean, are media commentators really asking us to believe that there is any doubt about Nick Clegg’s intentions, or whether the coalition will last right up until polling day?
Let’s deal with Clegg first. The current Lib Dem leader cannot stand the House of Commons, which he regards as old-fashioned, too confrontational and (the most damning of all) so un-European. And the Commons has no higher opinion of him: Clegg is regarded by both the main parties and an increasing number of his own MPs as beneath contempt. And he knows it. He also knows that if he were to lead his party into the next election, that could mean the difference between a disaster and a wipe-out.
So he’ll bugger off to Brussels as Britain’s next European Commissioner in 2014 and someone else – almost certainly Vince – will take over.
And even if that doesn’t happen (it will), we will still witness the most obvious, most cynical, most dishonest next step in the over-long and unhappy trajectory of this “government”: the emergence of the excuse the Lib Dems need to depart the coalition many months before the 2015 election.
Of course the coalition isn’t going to last until polling day 2015 – why on earth would anyone assume otherwise? They decided long ago – I suspect only a matter of weeks after Nick and Dave exchanged vows in the rose garden – that the Lib Dems would need about a year of distance from their erstwhile Tory partners to attempt a “detoxification” of their brand before voters deliver their next verdict. They decided in 2010 that they would need to contrive an excuse to justify their departure. They may not have decided yet what that excuse will be, although they may well have. Europe, Lords reform, budget cuts, who knows? It doesn’t matter. All we know is that they will appear on TV wearing their very best “hurt and indignant” faces, explaining that they tried their best but the Tories turned out to be, against all expectations and warnings, well, Tories.
In this week’s Sunday Times, LibDem peer Lord Smith of Clifton urged Clegg to take “bold and very necessary step” to leave the coalition. Bold? Is his Lordship having a laugh? Or is he just helping out his party by trying to depict the inevitable as, somehow, an act of principle rather than self-preservation?
Remember those heady days of May 2010? Nick and Dave promising the arrival of “the New Politics”, a different way of governing, a new era of consensus, an end to cynicism, lots of noisy young people wearing purple…
Well, if this unprecedented level of cynicism, dishonesty and opportunism is “The New Politics”, can we please get back to the Old Politics as soon as possible?
Tom Harris is MP for Glasgow South and a Shadow Defra Minister