King's Evangelical Divinity School

22 June 2010

A Brief Moment to Comment on the Coalition

Apologies! End-of-year marking and examination season has been in full swing for several weeks, hence the lack of blogging. But I've finally been able to take a short break from college issues especially to watch the Budget. In doing so I was struck by how our political landscape has changed so much in this country in just six or seven weeks.

First, Cameron looks quite relaxed and statesman-like, while today the Tories seem to have regained their historical reputation for financial competence. It was weird, too, watching the Chacellor speak with LibDem Cabinet ministers on either side of him (clearly it was Cameron's turn for that seat hidden behind the speaker at the despatch box). Interesting, too, is how just a few months ago LibDem leader Nick Clegg was shouted down by Labour MPs when asking questions during every single PMQs, yet now he sits next to the PM and is one of the most powerful men in government (much to the livid anger, no doubt, of members on the benchs opposite... perhaps some of them realise now they were rather ungenerous to the leader of the third party, which I dare say contributed to his unwillingness to explore more seriously a Lib-Lab coalition). Funny, too, how our perceptions change. I always considered Clegg a bit of a joke, someone who promised everything knowing full well he would never be held to account as the leader of a third party unlikely ever to secure power. Yet now I see him in a quite different light. Not only was he educated at a prestigious English public school (arguably an ideal training ground for running Government), but he has also proved quite able to ditch ideology over pragmatic necessity. [Reading back I can't believe I just wrote that! My, how things have changed in the last few weeks.]

For their part, I think much of Labour looks not only tired and out of touch, but many of its MPs arguably come across as somewhat hypocritical. They regularly shouted Clegg down so his voice quite literally couldn't be heard at PMQs, and yet now Harriet Harman, during her Budget response, shakes her head in disbelief at the concept of the LibDems working with the Tories, as if "How could they? They are one of us!" Well clearly they should have portrayed that sentiment a little more generously when they had the chance. Hypocritical, too, is the shrill indignance emanating from some Labour MPs such as Chris Bryant and, a few weeks ago, David Blunkett (yes, you heard correctly, David Blunkett of all people) that the new Coalition government is guilty of briefing journalists rather than informing Parliament first! This, of course, from an ex-government which was contemptuous of Parliament (Blair: "I've never been a House of Commons man") and did precisely this kind of briefing (enter Alastair Campbell) for years and years. They need to take care. People have long memories and they could look rather silly if they continue to call the new government for the very things they engaged in for years.

Meanwhile, glad to see the current approach to politics seeks to use talent from across the parties, notably the welcome involvement of Frank Field and more recently John Hutton. I think the Coalition government has successully captured the middle ground of British politics which, years ago one would simply not have associated with the Tory party. Early Thatcher succeeded in doing so and the party remained in power for years. Later Thatcher and 1990s Conservativism failed to do tso and the results for one of the most successful political parties in Western Europe were disastrous. Labour needs to bear in mind the inherent dangers of a sharp, reactive lurch to the left. For all his faults, Blair recognised that along that path lies utter folly. As one who was somewhat doubtful (and who knows? It could all end rather quickly) the Coalition government looks increasingly serious, pragmatic, statesman-like and - it must be said - quite good. It is certainly much-needed at this time.

Anyway, back to those scripts for a nother few days. But before I go, on another note did you hear about the North Korean government's unfortunate broadcasting decision concerning World Cup football recently? The Stalinist state did not broadcast live North Korea's first match against Brazil, which is more the pity given how they managed to keep the mightly footballing nation to a highly respectable 2-1 result. No doubt buoyed by this result the Dear Leader and his minions decided to broadcast the next North Korea match live. Yes, that's right, this was the match which North Korea lost 7-0 to Portugal. You couldn't make it up.

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