Mon Jul 16th, 2012 at 04:14:23 AM EST
Now that the fallout from the failure of the Lords reform bill is being assessed, things are definitely becoming interesting in Westminster at the moment. There are too many strands for a comment or even a series of comments, so I thought I'd start a diary to see if the various plots can add up to a whole narrative.
front-paged by afew
Guardian - Toby Helm - Will David Cameron be able to keep his coalition, and his own party, together?
David Cameron in 2012 is not like John Major was in 1995. There is no serious threat to his leadership, and no sign of a plot to dump him. What there is, though, is the first wave of destabilizing gossip, talk in the bars and restaurants, and evidence of real unhappiness in the rightwing press.
He (anonymous MP) then began to muse about William Hague's possible ambitions. "I think he might fancy his chances again," he said. "He is around a lot. He is behaving like someone does when they want to build a following." Hague would deny harbouring any hopes to lead his party again. But the fact that his movements, and those of others such as Liam Fox and Michael Gove, are being scrutinised by backbench MPs for the merest hint that they might be "on manoeuvres" says much about the mood in the Tory party.
Yesterday the Daily Mail - never a huge fan of Cameron but still hugely influential among the party's core voters - turned up the heat on the prime minister with a double-paged spread under the headline: "Flashman Dave and the night Tory whips drove a woman MP to tears." A menacing image of Cameron the bully, in an old-style public school cravat and with crinkly long hair, was accompanied by a piece that talked of his red cheeks and flared nostrils as he confronted the "always charming and courteous" chief rebel Jesse Norman in the Commons, minutes after 91 Conservative MPs had defied their leader on a three-line whip. The Mail also ran an editorial extolling the virtues of the education secretary Gove's policies and asking whether his next act might be to open a batch of new grammar schools, a policy Cameron has always resisted. In a third punch to Cameron's solar plexus, Mail columnist Simon Heffer quoted Tennyson, saying "authority forgets a dying King" and observing that "he starts to look like a one-term prime minister, because the Conservative Party is already visibly moving away from him."
Even more interestingly, rumours surfaced in the Mail (not linking) suggesting that William Hague is "war gaming" the removal of George Osborne as Chancellor, a situation whose roots are analysed here;-
Guardian - William Keegan - If only George Osborne would take his eye off Balls
Believe it or not, I still bump into people who have a good word to say about George Osborne. One of them even had a part in the chancellor's education, although I hasten to add that it was not Michael Gove. However, even those with a good word to say about the most dangerous chancellor I have known have been shaking their heads at his recent behaviour.
Yet it does not take a psychologist to see why Osborne has been making unseemly insinuations, and evidently false allegations, about an unlikely link between the shadow chancellor and the Libor affair. The plain fact is that the prime minister and chancellor have become obsessed with Ed Balls.
This is partly because he gets under their skin with his taunts in the Commons, but it is principally because he has been right about the economy and they have been wrong - disastrously wrong.
But yet, there's more going on. As Simon Heffer hinted above, the split in the Coalition is not so much between the Lib Dems and the Conservatives, but is in fact right down the middle of the Conservative party, and Cameron himself is seen as being on the wrong side.
Guardian - Andrew Rawnsley - Only Cameron can rescue the coalition. But does he want to?
Unlike the Lib Dems, they (conservative right wing) refuse to accept the fundamental basis of coalition: that of give and take on both sides. This contrast came to a vivid head last week when the government had to beat its humiliating retreat over Lords reform - legislation shaped by a Tory minister and approved by the whole cabinet - because almost 100 Tory MPs defied their whips. This is a debacle with several consequences, none of them good for the health of the coalition. Tory MPs now think they know that when they see the whites of the prime minister's eyes, they can make him blink. The Lib Dems now know that when David Cameron promises he can deliver the Conservative party, his word cannot be relied on.
Whatever you may think of these proposals for the Lords, the Lib Dems burn with an entirely understandable resentment that they have repeatedly done their duty by the coalition by swallowing a lot of things they don't like, but a blocking minority of Conservative MPs simply will not reciprocate when it comes to something that Lib Dems care about. From my conversations with very senior Lib Dems I have absolutely no doubt of this: if Lords reform does not progress in September, the Lib Dems will respond by killing the redrawing of constituency boundaries which are estimated to be worth an extra dozen to 20 seats to the Tories at the next general election. Moreover, they will veto the boundary changes as an explicit act of payback for Tory sabotage of Lords reform. It won't be a case of Nick Clegg quietly licensing his backbenchers and peers to work with Labour to vote down the boundary changes. All Lib Dems, ministers included, will vote against.
The Conservatives attach enormous importance to the small haul of extra seats they expect to gain from these boundary changes - a sign of their lack of confidence that they can win the next election. If the Lib Dems vote down the boundary changes, some Conservatives predict that the anger among Tories will be so intense that it will be the death knell of this government. So it is possible that the coalition will collapse in poisonous acrimony and Ed Miliband will be prime minister by Christmas.
He concedes that this is actually unlikely, but right now the Tory party is on the point of a many sided war, with right versus left simply being the most obvious of fault lines. Quite frankly I could consider another diary simply trying to guess which factions will emerge and be hopelessly wide of the mark as unimagined "points of principle" emerge as fault lines to create another micro-faction.
What is likely is that there will be a reshuffle in September, but to what purpose remains unknowable so it is likely to be presented as a routine shuffling of the pack but one can expect that loyalists will rise and the disgruntled will sink. But whether the Coalition can create a new grand plan that will sustain them through to 2015 is doubtful, which means that it will be difficult for Cameron to find reasons to keep his fractious backbenchers in line, which means they will be at each others throats for some time to come.