A shuffle to the right….
Today, politics came back with a bang. David Cameron unveiled his first significant reshuffle since taking power after a weekend of damp squib policy announcements. In the most central area for the government, the economy, it was very much a case of plus ca change. George Osborne, unsurprisingly, remained in place, as did Vince Cable despite being wildly unpopular with the general public and the Conservative right respectively. I suspect this was a deliberate ploy to send the clear signal that there is no intended change of course in this policy area. David Laws and Kenneth Clarke will no doubt have input but neither intend nor advocate significant changes.
The appointment of Laws to a position within the Education department should worry Labour. Now, with Michael Gove and David Laws in situ there and lining up against a lightweight Steven Twigg our challenge of making ourselves heard in this area and putting forward a coherent opposition program have been significantly reduced. Something urgently needs to be done about this situation, Labour needs to win the holy trinity of policy struggles, on the economy, health and education. Winning two of the three wouldn’t be enough. Health and Education are hot-button issues for core Labour supporters and when they are high in the voters minds, traditionally, Labour does well. Obviously, the economy remains the central issue, the fulcrum around which all others rotate.
Health, having suffered the tyranny of Andrew Lansley’s reign now has the probably even more tyranny to suffer under the baneful eye of Jeremy Hunt. Labour’s fortunes look set to fare better here. I can’t see any other outcome than Andy Burnham running rings around the already tainted Hunt. Indeed, I can’t that the Conservative’s have essentially decided to cede this turf to Labour by appointing Hunt. In this area, the Conservatives have dropped the ‘de-toxification’ campaign that marked the start of Mr Cameron’s leadership and are simply starting to govern as the Party they always were.
If you look at the appointments of Owen Paterson, Patrick MacLoughlin and Chris Graying to Environment, Transport and Justice respectively then you see how gradually, on more social issues, the Conservative right is asserting itself slowly but surely. This pattern of right-wing aggressiveness and assertiveness really began to gather momentum with the successful backbench rebellion over House of Lords reform. All of this leaves the Liberal Democrats looking increasingly like the hopeless prisoners they always have been. The return of Laws, who frankly, might as well be a Conservative, was the only real ‘bright-spot’ for the yellow team. Jo Swinson’s much touted ascendancy was notable by its absence and that really has sums up the whole situation they find themselves in.
All the chickens are slowly coming home to roost. This never was a Coalition between two political parties but certainly three and possibly four (counting the different fractions of the two parties). One of them, the true Conservative Party is restive and is ready to make a final play for power. The Coalition will not survive much longer (relatively speaking) because the power-relations between its components have become fundamentally unbalanced by the surge of the Conservative right. However, whether Labour can pick up the pieces when the big bang occurs is still very much an open question, the answer to which is largely in our own hands.