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The Clameron administration: What's changed?

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Paul Mason | 08:24 UK time, Wednesday, 12 May 2010

When rapid and decisive change happens it's hard for the human brain to keep up. We have a natural tendency to try and fit reality to our existing ideas - and that's what characterises much of the commentary this morning. But big things did happen between lunchtime and closing time yesterday. Here's my provisional take:

1. David Cameron has accelerated - but not completed - the transformation of the Conservatives into a socially liberal centre right party. He has taken a conscious decision to use the hung parliament to do this, bolstering his social-liberal wing at the expense of the traditional right, and finding an agenda to satisfy, for now the "new" right of the Tory party in the Cornerstone group.

2. Nick Clegg has secured significant compromises that allow, on paper, the Libdems to claim they are not simply "propping up a Tory government" but influencing and shaping not only policy but the whole way Britain is governed. If we get a Liberal Home Secretary and/or an essentially social-democratic (for that is really what Vince is) Banking & Business Secretary then in these two departments - where diktat and crisis management are more important than legislation - will define what the Libdems contribute to the "Clameron" administration.

3. These compromises and rapid moves will be put to the test and could still unravel as the "tribal" aspect of party politics kicks in: the Tory right will want to do some symbolic things that mark their territory, on defence, Europe, possibly industrial relations, and certainly in terms of spending cuts. The left wing of the Libdem mass base stands in danger of bleeding away to Labour and the Greens, which will place pressure on Clegg.

4. The coalition arrangement itself is untested in the modern political context. Under Thatcher, Blair and Brown the machinery of state was wielded ruthlessly: can a coalition really do that, and does it want to? Or will we begin to see public disagreement between ministers; the end of the "party line" government fixers have sometimes tried to enforce in business, science, the professions and the arts?

5. The so-called "progressive moment" advocated by Alex Salmond, parts of the Libdems and the Guardian newspaper has been missed. It's very clear to me, from numerous contacts, that Labour had no appetite to make a coalition with the Libdems happen. The left saw it as a power-grab by a largely unelected rump (Mandelson, Adonis, Campbell); the Scottish Labour Party explicitly rejected "national interest" arguments in favour of party interest. Many English backbenchers could feel the wrath of the tabloids rising and didn't fancy facing both that and the market backlash with a parliamentary minority. Instead a widespread defeatism gripped the ranks of former ministers (there are lots of them); and it dawned on the party's young generation that in a Cling-On coalition they would have no chance to debate what went wrong and renew the party's policy agenda.

6. In the background, the theme tune to this coalition was being sung by Tory negotiator Oliver Letwin and Cameron guru Philip Blond: the small-state, big society agenda summarised in Blond's book Red Tory was pushed relentlessly as the ideological glue that could hold the Liberals, Cameronites and Cornerstone Christians of the Tory right together. We'll see.

7. For now the first big tests are economic. George Osborne gets his £6bn cuts, the Treasury and the emergency budget. But does he get to emerge from an imminent review of the public finances with his claim that they are "fiction" vindicated? And does the new coalition convince the ratings agencies that Britain's deficit reduction plan is serious enough to avoid a downgrade?

8. Finally the media will never be the same again. All the instincts of the Tory red-tops are to dislike Clegg, dislike coalition. Plus the Telegraph and Mail even thought Cameron was a namby-pamby, never mind Clegg. Only the Times can lay claim to any kind of intellectual affinity with what's been created, together with - if they can only admit it to themselves - the Guardian. The Indy (and Observer if it maintains its editorial independence) can claim to have fought for the Lib-Lab coalition, but now that's impossible it will be interesting to see if the Indy moves left. The raison d'etre of the Mirror's slavish pro-Gordon line is now gone so it may be able to reposition itself.

And I leave you with the following observation.

I was born in 1960. Between the ages of 10 and 20 I saw four elections and three changes of government, a hung parliament and an informal coalition.

In the 30 years since then I have seen just two changes of government: in May 1997 and last night.

Both the arrival of Thatcher and that of Tony Blair were triumphalist. They seemed to presage long eras of one-party rule in which the checks and balances on the executive would be eroded. Last night did not - but let's see what happens.

I'm about to head off to the Bank of England, where Mervyn King must now adapt to the conundrum: what does monetary policy do when fiscal policy is suddenly tightened; and how does an institution with the feel of an 18th Century opera house (the doormen still wear livery) suddenly become both micro and macro regulator of a 21st Century financial centre.


  • Comment number 1.


    A coalition - in an ADVERSARIAL CHAMBER with whips, time-wasting rituals and a host of other pathogens oozing from the fabric?

    Universal suffrage - the manipulative scoundrel-politician's delight - will not even be inspected; before long, to be augmented by school children.

    FAMILY is anchored in MOTHER. 'We don't do mother - only Mammon'

    FAIRNESS FOR THE ELDERLY - over their undead bodies!

    When two Westminster Creatures team up BECAUSE THE ONLY ALTERNATIVE WAS HONOURABLE FAILURE, IN WHAT THEY FIRST ATTEMPTED, what do they really amount to?

    "For the good of the Country"? There's novelty!

  • Comment number 2.


    Paul. I think you might find 'clamour on' to be more apposite.


  • Comment number 3.

    The Lib Dems are clearly finished at the next election. A recent analysis shows that if only one in four LD voters move over to Labour, the LD's lose one third of their seats. I'm willing to bet that at the very least one in four LD voters are unhappy right now.

    I would also urge people not to buy this Lib Dem spin about "moderating the excesses" of a Tory government. None of the manifestos had anywhere like the detail required to be serious about the cuts which will be demanded by the City. Hence, Mervyn King's now-infamous comment about whoever gets in now will be out of power for a generation. The idea that you will be able to "moderate" the excesses of what was always hidden behind a conspiracy of silence in the first instance (and which the LD's were just as guilty of as the other two of keeping quiet about) is just further spin.

  • Comment number 4.

    fingers crossed for this progressive coalition, for the good of the country. progressive because it looks like it will aim for the good of the country, unlike the last five years which has been aimless power for power's sake. fingers crossed that it's an end to partisan hate politics of the previous era.

  • Comment number 5.

    The Tory Right have not gone away and are grateful that the nice Mr Cameron have got rid of the Labour Government and produced a PM of their party. When the novelty of this 'relief' wears off and real issues bubble up Mr Cameron will find that he has his own band of 'bastards' to deal with. Mr Clegg also will I think soon have his own little local difficulties to contend with. I say give it six months and add a crisis or two (public sector workers, perhaps a run on the pound (Norman I cant believe it has happened again)the inherent fault lines will activate and the Lib Dems will split leaving a trouble government with a small majority - then who knows.

    Paul, when you are at the Bank of England perhaps you could ask the Guv when it will be recognised that you cant manage a modern economy through a motley crew of geeky economists and money men contemplating their interest rate navels in phase with the Moon!

  • Comment number 6.

    Paul - detailed , thoughtful and spot on . Refreshing- this is balanced.

  • Comment number 7.

  • Comment number 8.


    He said we should hold him to account if he defaulted. Is coalition tantamout to default?

    'Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practise Nick to cleave.'

  • Comment number 9.

    Remember, nobody won.

    I have no objection to a castrated David Cameron as PM. Uncle Vince may well teach Osbo some economics, replacing the brainwashing by his hedge-fund friends. I wanted to vote Liberal, but im my constituency voted Labour to try to keep the Tory seats down. Many, like me voted Labour with great reluctance.

    It has to be said: the New Labour project has been a disaster. Sleaze, authoritarianism and pandering to celebrity and the undeservedly rich. They ended up pursuing half-baked expensive stupid policies, like ID cards, just to avoid losing face. No wonder they did worse than Neil Kinnock in 1987 and - almost as badly as Michael Foot 1983.

    Good riddance to Mandelson in particular. The Labour party must clean out the stables, then rediscover its roots or die.

  • Comment number 10.

    The end of tactical voting whatever happens to political reform. I would bet a significant number of Lib-Dem voters didn't really expect Clegg to jump into bed with Dave.
    There are so many fundamental divisions that I can't see this coalition lasting for long.
    For example:
    pro-Europe vs lunatic fringe Anti-Europe
    cutting Defence including Trident vs protection of cherished world stage projection
    Clegg's Atheism vs Cameron's Christian Right
    Cable's experience vs Osborne's inexperience (bet Vince dumps Osborne in "it" as soon as he can.)
    Tax rises favoured vs Tax cutting instinct.
    Chance for progressive foces to realign - strange death of Labour party. I expect so. Bankrupt, bereft of ideas the end of a once proud party.

  • Comment number 11.

    So are they here for 5 years or 5 months?

  • Comment number 12.

    but Mandy won't go will he? Already he is weaving his web and annointing the Milliband person to be the successor to Blair/Brown. Labour need to rid itself forever of the Nu bit of Labour, it has been a disaster of unpopular wars, slavish obedience to Americans, letting the City rip and c.... all over us and generally be to the right of Thatcher...and yet Mandy wants us to accept more of the chance!


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