An Inconvenient Marriage

January 31, 2013 11:14 am

This week has not been – as the Lib Dem Press Office cringingly likes to put it – Coalicious. The Tories got what they deserved for lacking the discipline to pass promised Lords Reform. But from the way they were speaking of their coalition partners it is clear that a line has not been – and will not quickly be – drawn under this one. Indeed it’s going to run and run. And already we can see the flash points gathering on the horizon.

Firstly, let’s be clear that it’s not just the Lib Dems the Tories are angry with. Despite the convulsions of joy he gave them last week with his in/out/in-a-little-while pledge on Europe, there is a large proportion of the Tory backbench who loathe Cameron. They blame him for failing to win an election while conversely blaming him for not being right wing enough. He is also arrogant and has neglected to build the alliance he needs outside of his own very tight, very privileged circle.

Despite positive feelings around Cameron coming off the Eurofence (or at least promising to probably do so in 5 years time), there is still plenty that Tory MPs are unhappy about and some of the issues put them in direct opposition to the Lib Dems.

Today’s issue is mooted defence cuts. Yesterday morning the FT ran a piece containing very strong language from some Tory MPs against further cuts, but by yesterday lunchtime the Government were indicating they were considering precisely that, despite general levels of uncertainty around the development of our role in Mali. Today confusion reigns – which is hardly the way to calm a crisis. Cameron either needs to get tough with his backbenchers or give in to them – but neither course will now quiet them.

The Tory backbenches think more can be squeezed from the welfare budget to protect defence spending. Nick Clegg believes that he has a promise from Osborne that this will now be protected until 2015. The Tories didn’t get the response they were hoping for from the public after their last attack on welfare and there are signs that even they are beginning to understand how their rhetoric is re-toxifying their Party. Those backbenchers seeking this are unlikely to get their way – something Tory backbenchers have shown little ability to swallow with dignity.

Next week will be the next really big fight. Not just between coalition Parties, but between wings of the Tory Party. While – extremely regrettably – some members of Labour and the Lib Dems will be voting against equal marriage, it won’t be in anything like the numbers of expected Tory rebels. If Nick Herbert MP is right around 150 Tory MPs (half their Parliamentary Party) will rebel. When Labour had a rebellion approaching that size, it was on the issue of sending troops to the massively misguided misadventure in Iraq, for the Tory backbenchers it’s about whether two people who love each other and happen to be of the same sex should have the same rights as straight couples have enjoyed for millennia.

Somehow I don’t think the Tory united front is going to last very long.

What about the Coalition? Will they lick their wounds and come back united? Several issues on the horizon say that they won’t. Tax breaks for married couples are back on the agenda and may well appear in the Spring Budget. The Coalition agreement allows Lib Dems to abstain on this issue. Will they? Although allowed to by the agreement, they didn’t abstain over Tuition Fees, but that has cost them dearly. Unless Nick Clegg can wring something pretty dramatic out of Osborne for this year’s budget (and so far Osborne has been pretty adept at fending off the Lib Dem demands) then this may well see a mass hand-sitting from the Lib Dems – accompanied by further vitriol from their Partners in Coalition.

We’re a long way from the Rose Garden. The Government is faced inwards and fighting itself in numerous directions. This is an opportunity for Labour and we mustn’t squander it. A divided Government does not mean an automatic loss. But it does mean that the Government’s focus on the issues that matter – the economy, life chances and the cost of living to name but three – is anything but laser-like. Now is the time that ours must be. We can’t rely on the unattractiveness of this shower alone, but we can exploit the opportunity it presents us. That must be Labour’s key task in 2013.

Latest

  • Comment Why rural areas need free buses

    Why rural areas need free buses

    To have a fully functioning society, bus services in rural areas should be free of charge. For young people seeking employment, education or entertainment, the unwell needing to visit and be visited in hospitals or the elderly wanting to break the loneliness of isolation, public transport is essential. If governments don’t want to spend money on services in rural areas, they should at least provide the means for people who live there to get to them in urban areas. Regular […]

    Read more →
  • News Austin Mitchell rubbishes claims that Labour MPs could join UKIP

    Austin Mitchell rubbishes claims that Labour MPs could join UKIP

    The idea that any Labour MPs could follow Douglas Carswell’s lead by joining UKIP is merely “wishful thinking” on their part, according to a prominent Eurosceptic Labour MP. Yesterday, Nigel Farage claimed that he has “spoken to many” Labour MPs this year who “support everything UKIP is trying to do”, while a UKIP source today told the BBC that as many as ten “deeply unhappy” Labour MPs who are “fed up with being patronised by the Labour glitterati” and would […]

    Read more →
  • Featured David Cameron only has himself to blame for his problems with UKIP

    David Cameron only has himself to blame for his problems with UKIP

    This week’s defection by Douglas Carswell to UKIP was a hammer blow for the Prime Minister’s authority.  David Cameron and the Tories are running scared of UKIP and are more divided than ever before. With Stuart Wheeler, the former Tory donor and now UKIP treasurer, declaring that at least two more MPs are “seriously considering” defecting, we know that the introspection and turmoil is set to continue. As the Tories’ identity crisis deepens, it becomes clearer and clearer that they cannot provide […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Rather than focusing on free schools, Labour should consider supporting home education

    Rather than focusing on free schools, Labour should consider supporting home education

    The Labour Party, since at least 2010 have gradually begun to present a coherent, cohesive education programme, to present to the electorate in time for the General Election in 2015. We’ve rightly focused on Michael Gove’s profligate waste of money on free schools. We’ve rightly focused on the Liberal Democrats’ breaking their pledge to vote against raising tuition fees. We’ve rightly focused on the other 50% of people who decide to not go to University and we’re now right to […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Attracting the anti-UKIP vote – why Clacton matters for Labour

    Attracting the anti-UKIP vote – why Clacton matters for Labour

    Make yourself a cuppa, pull up a comfy chair, and watch. Since Douglas Carswell’s surprise/no-surprise defection to UKIP yesterday and the forcing of a by-election in Clacton, there will be some in the party tempted to adopt this attitude. And not without good reason. Consider the previous by-election outings over the last year or so. In Eastleigh, a Liberal Democrat/Tory marginal, from nowhere, became a LD/UKIP marginal. The Conservatives were dumped into third place and our vote stagnated at just […]

    Read more →