Sometime today, the Prime Minister and his
fag, sorry deputy, will appear on an anonymous Essex industrial estate and publicly reaffirm their shared commitment to Coalition Government after what might be charitably described as not one of their better weeks. Given their recent travails this is actually saying something.
In the past few days, the tone within the Government has changed from penitence and self-flagellation on Friday morning to the more traditionally political responses of Saturday and Sunday, where first the Prime Minister assured the public that he was listening by carrying on doing exactly as he was anyway and not listening, then the Chancellor took great pains to tell Andrew Marr that he had made mistakes with Budget: in its presentation. In effect, George says he simply didn’t tell us loudly enough or slowly enough, like you’d do while toilet training a toddler. Or a dog.
The elections in Greece and France this last weekend have certainly changed things, with a significant move to the political left. This may yet see the Euro utterly destroyed by a Greek withdrawal if the current impasse is not resolved. France is a more nuanced issue. Angela Merkel has been quick to tell the new Président Hollande that the current arrangements are not negotiable. It is inconceivable that he will agree. This will, of course, create tensions but I am fairly sure that Hollande will win out to some degree as the need for investment and growth will need to addressed fairly soon. If this happens, it will put the Coalition’s hairshirt programme into sharp relief; we will look across the channel and wonder: why is it the French can do this, but we cannot?
Mr Cameron also has other concerns, like “What Do You Do With A Problem Like Boris?” Outwardly, on Saturday, the priapic Labrador’s election was the single golden glimmer of good news in a mountain of electoral effluvia for Cameron. But at a deeper level, it could cause him much trouble. Johnson seemingly won in London despite being a Conservative, not because of it: he’s a winner. At the same time, Cameron has had his first real voter kicking. And it’s not going to get better any time soon. Twitchy Tory backbenchers, never the most patient of souls, are already rumbling about his performance and the fact that he’s simply not right-wing enough, forgetting that at least in name, this isn’t actually a Conservative government. Eyes may start to be cast towards City Hall and the man who is damn near bombproof electorally. Already Cameron’s own right wing wants him to jettison “irrelevant” legislation to bring forward reform of the House of Lords, put forward by the Coalition’s “junior partner”. Having it rebuffed would put even greater strain on an increasingly strained marriage of inconvenience.
That’s not even Camoern’s major problem. The economy is still flat-lining and the private sector growth that the Chancellor optimistically claimed was going to offset all those public sector cuts is simply not happening. Confidence is through the floor and even those jobs being created are in the bottom of the market – low wage, part-time. The market is full of unemployed or down-skilling graduates and people are now properly starting to feel the impacts of both the first and second waves of cuts. The NHS is still a suppurating wound, with few convinced of the wisdom of the recently enacted Bill. And he’s still up to his neck in Leveson. That’s before we even begin to talk about the ineptitude of Teresa May, or Jeremy Hunt, the glacial pace of banking reform or a hundred other things mounting up on his watch. Only a couple of weeks ago he tried to tell us how hard it was being Prime Minister. Well, I’m not sure anyone forced you into your current post. And if it’s too much of a strain, you can always quit, can’t you?
So, today’s exercise in relaunching the tottering Coalition increasingly looks like polishing a turd, because however you may try to make it sparkle, a jobby’s a jobby for a’ that.