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Yellow Tories

Britain’s post-election intrigue came to a conclusion yesterday with the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats announcing a coalition government [1]. What seems remarkable to me is how much the Tories conceded — the Lib Dems (whose party color is yellow) will get several cabinet ministers, including LD leader Nicholas Clegg as deputy prime minister, Parliament will sit for a fixed five-year term, and at some point there will be a referendum on the alternative vote.

Both parties are for scrapping the national ID cards introduced by Blair. The Conservatives will proceed with plans to introduce tax breaks for married couples, though the Lib Dems are not bound to support the effort. (Tories are similarly free to oppose the alternative vote itself once it goes to a referendum.) Lib Dems go the Tories to accept tax breaks — or rather, no taxes at all — for Britons earning less than 10,000 pounds, while the Lib Dems have forsaken their opposition to spending cuts this year. Clegg’s party will also put their liberal immigration policies on the back burner for the sake of coalition. All told, not a bad package.

On the other hand, personnel is policy, and there’s plenty to worry about there. Michael Gove [2], the new secretary of state for education and one of Cameron’s closest parliamentary pals, is a neocon who admires Tony Blair’s foreign policy and has declared, “Our education agenda is the Obama education agenda [3].” Then there’s Cameron himself. As Geoffrey Wheatcroft writes [4]:

… there has been one bewildering volte-face after another, now hugging hoodies, now tough on crime, now promising to favour the family through taxation, now changing his mind. To begin with he tried to present himself as “Blair’s heir”, perhaps egged on by Michael Gove, one of his closest front-bench associates and the man who once wrote, “I can’t fight my feelings any more: I love Tony.” Perhaps Cameron finally worked out that, whatever Gove may think, most ordinary Tories – and other citizens – had come to detest and despise Blair.

And Cameron’s sheer lack of judgement has been alarming. Only the week before last he flew to Belfast to strike a deal with the Ulster Unionists, a crazy mission. Worse still – the worst single moment in his party leadership – was the summer before last, when Cameron flew to Tiflis during the conflict between Georgia and Russia, and said that Georgia should be admitted to Nato immediately. Apart from the fact that, as plenty of us guessed at the time and has since been confirmed by independent observers, Georgia was not in the right, Cameron’s words meant, if he was serious, that he was ready to send the Coldstream Guards to fight and die for South Ossetia. Did he mean it?

One might hope that the Lib Dems, the only (big) British party that opposed the Iraq War, will tame whatever global democratist impulses Cameron might have. But don’t bet on it: I suspect the reason the Lib Dems have been the most antiwar party has nothing to do with fundamental principles and everything to do with never having held political power, which has a way of making foreign interventions (and support for U.S. interventions) seem realistic and necessary.

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#1 Comment By Jack Ross On May 12, 2010 @ 10:03 am

I find it a bit counterintuitive that your biggest worry is the new education minister and not William Hague as Foreign Secretary, though even that I don’t see why should be any worse than Hillary has been at State. Whatever the case may be with the LibDems, Cameron is not going to put everything on the line to save the American empire, that’s just silly.

#2 Comment By Daniel McCarthy On May 12, 2010 @ 10:11 am

Gove is closer to Cameron than Hague is, and Hague at least wanted the Chilcot Inquiry to demand answers from Blair, [5] . Hague is no dove, but he’s not an ideologue either.

#3 Comment By Jack Ross On May 12, 2010 @ 10:44 am

OK, so remember also that Cameron opposed the Lebanon War and I believe has made serious noises about an exit strategy in Afghanistan.

#4 Comment By MattSwartz On May 12, 2010 @ 11:07 am

So the Lib Dems and the Tories are governing in coalition. Does this mean more Latin for government school students or not? I know the Conservatives made noises about that, but will they prioritize it? I hope so.

#5 Comment By Sean Scallon On May 12, 2010 @ 12:15 pm

It surprised me that Labour gave up so easily but maybe it shouldn’t have

#6 Comment By Sean Scallon On May 12, 2010 @ 12:18 pm

I was going to say before accidently pushing the Return button is that Brown had to go to make any Lib-Lab coalition possible, but the fact that no one obvious was waiting in the wings to become Labour leader put the kibosh on the whole project. You can’t put together a governing coalition then figure out who is going to be PM. It doesn’t work that way.

#7 Comment By R J Stove On May 13, 2010 @ 12:54 am

I wish it had been Blair forced out ignominiously, rather than Brown, who by comparison with the unspeakable limp-wristed android Blair seems a recognizably human being.

#8 Comment By Randal On May 13, 2010 @ 2:59 am

Hague as foreign secretary is a real problem – militarist and atlanticist, and wholly in thrall to the mendacious neocon anti-Iran agenda. If he is occasionally off-message on the lockstep pro-Israel position required for full neocon foreign policy approval, he’s close enough for me to suspect that his deviations are politically tactical, and merely mask an underlying identity.

Fortunately it’s unlikely the British government will be in a position to do much more damage than it has already been doing by backing the Obama/Netanyahu campain against Iran to the hilts.

Gove is an unhappy contribution to our government, granted, but I tend to have the unfashionable view that our own governments killing foreign women and children should be more of a moral priority for us as individuals than our governments wasting our money on stupid state socialist internal projects. And, indeed, a higher moral priority than foreign governments killing foreign women and children.

So I would regard Hague as more of an issue than Gove, myself, even if I dislike both.

#9 Comment By Randal On May 13, 2010 @ 3:10 am

Sean: “It surprised me that Labour gave up so easily

The problems for the proposed Lib-Lab coalition were always much greater than the media-driven “progressive coalition” fantasy suggested. The leadership issue was only one problem, and getting rid of Brown only shifted that particular problem onto different ground. Whoever else was to become leader would have completely lacked what our media inaccurately claim is “democratic legitimacy”.

I suspect such a coalition, if it had come to pass, would have been a boon for the Conservatives, provided only that they could stop any PR gerrymander being introduced, and I suspect that any referendum put forward by such a weak Lib-Lab government would probably have failed. It might have destroyed the prospects for PR for a generation.

I almost wish it had happened (as I suspect a lot of real conservatives do). It would probably also have destroyed Labour, much as Major’s win in 1992 led to the disastrous Conservative defeat in 1997 and the long recovery through 2001 and 2005 – still not complete since the Conservative vote is still some 3-4 million down on the 13-14 million who voted for Thatcher and Major. Only Labour probably would never have recovered, and would have been replaced by the Lib-Dems.

#10 Comment By Zac in VA On May 13, 2010 @ 7:48 am

Listening to Clegg’s acceptance speech last night made me think “Someone certainly has changed his tune since the first debate!” My guess, Daniel McCarthy, is that, as you suggest in your last paragraph, that the LibDems are going to be quite the different animal now that they’ve grabbed a Deputy PMship and some benefits of their new coalition.

Clegg referred to their new government as “radical” (among other things) – – somehow I doubt that it will be a radical drawdown of the police- or nanny-state. Somehow..

#11 Pingback By Eunomia » Cameron and Georgia On May 17, 2010 @ 4:11 pm

[…] Dan McCarthy points us to Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s criticism of Cameron. Wheatcroft recalls a particularly troubling episode: And Cameron’s sheer lack of judgement has been alarming. Only the week before last he flew to Belfast to strike a deal with the Ulster Unionists, a crazy mission. Worse still – the worst single moment in his party leadership – was the summer before last, when Cameron flew to Tiflis during the conflict between Georgia and Russia, and said that Georgia should be admitted to Nato immediately. Apart from the fact that, as plenty of us guessed at the time and has since been confirmed by independent observers, Georgia was not in the right, Cameron’s words meant, if he was serious, that he was ready to send the Coldstream Guards to fight and die for South Ossetia. Did he mean it? […]

#12 Comment By Randal On May 19, 2010 @ 2:49 am

Zac: somehow I doubt that it will be a radical drawdown of the police- or nanny-state

They do, at least, talk a good fight.

See Nick Clegg’s latest fine words, as reported in the Telegraph today:

Nick Clegg: tell us the laws that you want scrapped
[6]

I’d ask Daniel Larison, Sean Scallon and Daniel McCarthy to read the story at that link and then let me know whether they are so confident in the accuracy of the media’s attempt to class the LibDems simplistically as a “party of the left”.

Granted, I’m too cynical to believe much will come of it. But it does at least indicate where Clegg believes there is support to be had, and what he thinks will be acceptable to at least a large part of his party. Good grief, if I thought Clegg could really be trusted to deliver properly on what is reported there, I’d vote LibDem.