Until yesterday, British political life had been pretty sleepy, drowned out by the Olympic goldrush for Team GB the silly season seemed to be pottering away minding its own business and rarely getting even close to a grabbing the headlines. However, that all changed with the resignation of Louise Mensch from her seat in Parliament, representing, in the loosest sense of the word, the people of Corby and East Northampton. Mensch’s resignation, something she put down to family concerns, probably had no small amount to do with the fact that she was obviously facing a re-selection (let alone re-election) crisis. Personally, I would be very surprised if many within her own Party didn’t privately share the same disdain expressed by Norman Tebbit in his Daily Telegraph blog.
The significance of Corby is that it is a key marginal which the Conservatives are going to face an up-hill battle to retain. If Corby is lost, already jittery and restive backbench Conservative sharks are bound to become even more jittery and all the more likely to be openly rebellious. If things do not show dramatic signs of improvement the fear of losing their privileged place may even embolden them to challenge an already tottering leadership.
News of Mensch’s departure was quickly followed by an even more dramatic development. Nick Clegg suddenly grew a political backbone, pronounced the cause of House of Lords reform DOA and withdrew the Liberal Democrats support for the governments proposed boundary review and furiously accused his already troubled bed-fellows of breaking the Coalition contract. Nick Clegg really had no choice but to do this, this is what convinces me he actually will follow through this time. Constitutional reform may be a cause that is a fringe concern for the wider electorate but it is a very dear to yellow hearts. It defines them in their own minds as a Party as much as our support for say the NHS defines us. Nothing has been achieved in that area now and still the Lib Dems languish in the polls, hemorrhaging activists and voters at a alarming (for them) rate. Clegg may well be stupid and short-sighted but every politician carries within them a finely tuned survival instinct and his must be finally kicking in now.
Clegg’s attack on Labour regarding reform of the other place are not entirely without justification but it was his decision to the lead the Liberal Democrats into a Faustian Pact with David Cameron that shattered the progressive electoral bloc which could have brought about the changes that he claims to want to see. Labour voters combined with Liberal Democrat’s could have easily outvoted the Conservative bloc barring change. Clegg however chose short-term gain over long-term strategic common sense. Now he and his Party must live with the consequences of that.
Menaced on the right by its own backbenchers, facing an increasingly belligerent Liberal Democrat Party on its left, the government is fast running out of friends. Labour is not the opposition force that will eventually bring it down (though it will play its part), it is its own internal contradictions that will destroy it. What does this mean for Labour? Most importantly, it means we have to be ready should an early General Election come our way. This prospect which was once the subject of idle speculation but is fast becoming a more than likely reality. This means getting ourselves in a state of organisational and political readiness and doing that in the most democratic but also efficient fashion. This government is imploding fast and we have to be ready to respond, whether we get back into government or not may well depend on it.