Cabinet reshuffles and looming election wipeouts

The Coalition Cabinet in the early days of 2010 before the axe started to fall. © The Daily Telegraph

Giving a speech at the 2009 EU elections results night, Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan delivered an eye catching plea for Gordon Brown to resign and call a general election. He had allegedly lost the ‘moral mandate’ and Hannan highlighted the farce of the political situation at the time by quoting popular children’s poet, Dr Seuss.

Three years on from this time when the strong, confident Conservatives were looking down their noses with glee as Labour slowly unravelled from within you cannot help but be amused by the irony of the upcoming, unprovoked cabinet reshuffle that is expected in the coming weeks. Or indeed, the news that the Liberal Democrat power base could be wiped out at the next election.

Every day the news seems to report another body blow to the Coalition as the Conservatives are still languishing eight points behind Labour  and the Liberal Democrats are even further behind on a paltry 10 points, only two points ahead of the UK Independence Party. According to YouGov (where the figures come from) if the election was held today Labour would win with a majority of 96.

To make the situation worse, the government has given up the pretence that they all still get along as George Osborne and Nick Clegg lock horns over Clegg’s comments to the Guardian that the rich should pay more tax.

With this government stuck in the quagmire less than halfway through its parliamentary term, its no wonder that the public mood is at dangerously low levels. David Cameron has to act now to break the spell and restore what little faith the country still has in him.

This reshuffle is designed as a shot in the arm for Cameron’s government; to root out naysayers and saboteurs and get the Coalition back on to track to Cameron’s grand plan: getting a majority in 2015.

Of course, the difficulty in this that Cameron is being torn in different directions by three groups with conflicting aims, none of are particularly interested in whether he gets to keep his job.

Cameron’s decision to shelve House of Lords reform may have been a concession to restore party unity but the result is this current deadlock. To friend and foe alike it made him look weak; it was a betrayal of the promises to the people and the Coalition partners that got them into this increasingly kamikaze government in the first place and to his enemies among the backbench of his own party.

Backbenchers have been grumbling over Cameron’s untraditional (for a Conservative) stance on Europe and gay marriage and are unhappy with the party entering into a coalition in the first place. Now that conference season is upon us, rising stars are looking to make their mark on the party and the press with headline grabbing speeches and the respective parties will be looking to consolidate with a policy agenda for the coming year.

Therefore now is the time for Cameron to quell the opposition to his agenda, or indeed his leadership. When he kowtowed to the backbench over Lords reform he demonstrated that he would back down if the party dug their heels in hard enough. Meanwhile MPs like Brian Binley are telling Cameron to mend relationships within the Tory party and stop behaving as the ‘Chambermaid’ for the Liberal Democrats and remind them who the senior partner in the Coalition is.

He is under increasing pressure to promote more right wing members to the Front Bench and get rid of some of the more unpopular figures; Justice Secretary Ken Clarke is reportedly facing the chop despite his claims that he is ‘totally laid back’ about the pending reshuffle. However, regardless of the change to the ideological line up of the Conservative side of the bench, Cameron is honour bound by the terms of the coalition agreement to keep five Liberal Democrats in the cabinet. So Business Secretary and Liberal Democrat hero, Vince Cable and  Minister for Scotland Danny Alexander look set to keep their jobs.

The Liberal Democrats have very different concerns when it comes to this reshuffle. Contrary to backbench opinion, the public feel there is little or no discernible yellow influence on the blue cabinet and that Clegg and his cronies simply decided to sell the young, the old and the ‘squeezed middle’ down the river in order to get a name in the political history books and possible a seat in the House of Lords one day.

Nearly every single one of the causes Nick Clegg championed when he gave the David Cameron the keys to number 10 have been dismantled or postponed and nearly every Lib Dem is getting restless. Since the defeat of Lords Reform, Clegg has declared open season on any and all Conservative policies he doesn’t like, including threatening to sabotage boundary change plans and criticising the Tory’s supposedly lenient tax policy. He needs to prove to his party (and the public) that he still has a backbone to prevent electoral ruin at the election. This uphill battle means he will continue to be a thorn in Cameron’s side and will not allowed his more popular ministers, like Cable, to feel the weight of the axe.

Then the third, and most important, group that Cameron needs to placate are the voters. When the election was held in May 2010 people (if not a majority of people) believed that if the Conservatives could cut the gross overspending by Labour, the economy would right itself and the country could go back to dancing on clouds and rainbows again. Fast forward two years and the economy has actually got worse now that we are in a double dip recession and the ‘deficit reducing’ government had to borrow money to plug a deficit in a month that is normally always supposed to run a surplus. Understandably the people are angry as they are losing their jobs and the props designed to support them when they do are being kicked out from under them. Meanwhile the Conservatives ring fence the rights of corporations and wealthy individuals such as their (politically foolish) announcement that they were going to criminalise squatting when thousands are already facing losing their homes.

One causality of reshuffle that is frequently called for his Chancellor, George Osborne. Having lost the support of several economists who had backed his deficit reduction plan at the beginning of his term, Osborne is increasingly becoming the target for people’s dissatisfaction with the state of the economy and his personal approval ratings have dipped lower than supposed Public Enemy Number One, Nick Clegg.

However, as Cameron’s best friend in government, Osborne is likely to survive. He may be the face of the ideology but Cameron is as much an architect of the economy as he is and there would be little gain from his removal. Whilst approval may take a slight upswing if he were replaced with the favourite, Vince Cable, it would not be worth the resulting destruction of Cameron’s power base within the party. Furthermore, Cable’s appointment may create a small respite for the economy as increased confidence in the Chancellor begets increased confidence in the economy which in turn begets growth; it is unlikely to have much long term effect if Cable is forced to pursue the same or similar policies to Osborne.

The whole situation is a political deadlock and it will be interesting to see if Cameron can get out of it, or at the very least keep his party together. Whatever happens in the long term public opinion is unlikely to be rosy. We can only wonder if any Labour MEP will be quoting Dr Seuss at Cameron come the European elections in 2014.

The Problem with Politics

Is this sort of violence an exception or will our frustrations always boil over?

It’s human nature to never be satisfied. In a way that’s why I almost feel sorry for politicians because even when they do what is actually in the best interests of the majority (which does happen very occasionally) the hysterical minorities come out in force.

We always want what we can’t have, take the figures released by Research Globe Scan, a polling firm and published in the Economist last week. In 2002, 80% of Americans, the land of the ‘American Dream’, believed that free market economics was the best financial system for their country but eight years and one massive recession later only 59% still agreed in 2010. Amongst Americans earning less than $20,000 it fell from 76% to 44%. You can say this is the impact of the financial crisis and the blame heaped on unregulated banking system for the loss of faith but Germany’s approval of capitalism has remained steady at 69% even if admittedly they’re still the strongest performing economy in the Euro zone. Only Spain managed to buck the trend with its approval growing from 37% to 51% and it is widely tipped to be the next country to receive a bailout from the European Union and the IMF.

In contrast, Communist China’s rating of capitalism keeps going up and up, at 68% it is higher than the USA for the first time ever.

There is a pretty clear correlation between the relative opinions of capitalism and the growth figures of each individual countries but does this play into a wider trend?

People have documented the increasing desire in the nominally communist states for prosperity and individuality with barely suppressed glee over the past few decades as evidence for the Western way being best but do these latest figures show that the grass will always be greener  no matter what side of the wall you’re on?

I’m withholding judgement on the merits or otherwise of free market capitalism (for now) but simply making the point that nothing will ever be perfect. There are always winners and losers and people will always see themselves as the loser because its human nature to have a bit of a chip on your shoulder.

If you don’t give people what they want they grumble (and in North Africa at the moment they rebel), if you do, they demand more or poke holes in what you’ve done. It’s a fun thing; there will never be a right way of doing things, only a few things the uninformed and slightly hysterical masses presume won’t damage them too much.

That’s why government’s normally veer from left to right depending on how dissatisfied the population are. If the recession hadn’t happen, Gordon Brown had been more charismatic and we hadn’t been dragged into two overseas conflicts, Labour probably would have still lost the next election because Cameron’s happy, shiny unrealistic plans looked so much more exciting.

You can promise anything when you’re not in power (ask the Lib Dems) if you make it seem different enough from what the government is doing.

(This post really has no point, it’s just late and it’s been a really long day. It’s mainly just my musings over the past week rather than any really cohesive polemic that’ll happen again when I’ve had more than five hours sleep).