Here’s an intriguing thought. This Friday marks the 90th anniversary of the Carlton Club rebellion of Tory MPs against the coalition with the Liberals. It forced David Lloyd George‘s resignation as prime minister. Could the Liberal Democrats exert revenge nine decades later by bringing down David Cameron in similar dramatic fashion?
The 1922 Tory backbenchers were unhappy with the coalition, especially after it nearly went to war with Turkey in the Chanak crisis. The party’s leaders wanted to continue the coalition, but the backbenchers won the day. Lloyd George was out, never again to hold office. King George V said he was sorry to see him go, but added that ‘Some day he will be prime minister again’. The king was wrong.
The Liberal Democrats have proved spineless in coalition. They broke their election pledge on student fees. They cravenly allowed the Tories to break their own promise not to reorganise the NHS. They have let the Tories wreak havoc with brutal spending cuts that have plunged us into a double dip recession. The list goes on. Will they one day reach breaking point and say ‘no more’?
Sceptics will say it’s unlikely. The Lib Dems face disaster at the next election – so why would they prompt an early election? (Assuming that’s even possible after the coalition legislated for a fixed term.) And the Lib Dem ministers are clearly enjoying the privileges of office.
But who can tell what pressures may build up over the next 30 months. We may yet see the creation of the Liberal Democrats’ 2014 committee, named after the year of the great rebellion that ended David Cameron’s political career…
Ken Livingstone will never again be mayor of London. His second defeat by Boris Johnson has ended one of the most colourful careers in British politics.
It’s hard to believe that the sad figure who left the stage today once electrified the political scene. As leader of the Greater London Council, Ken defied Margaret Thatcher at her most powerful. Thatcher was so unnerved by Ken’s bravado that she abolished the GLC, an act of spite that left London as the world’s only leading city without its own government body. In 2000, he defied another powerful prime minister, Tony Blair, to become the city’s first elected mayor. (Blair’s mistake was a classic example of how New Labour’s controlling tendency often backfired spectacularly.)
As mayor, Livingstone achieved a lot, notably the bold congestion charge scheme, helping win the 2012 Olympics and his dignified response to the 7/7 bombings. But his maverick nature became a weakness not a strength. Ken likened a Jewish reporter to a concentration camp guard – and compounded the offence by repeatedly refusing to apologise. It was the first of a number of insensitive remarks about the Jewish community.
The greatest indictment of Livingstone is that he lost to a Tory on a day when the Tories were routed in other elections across the country. True, he was fighting the Tory media as well as Boris Johnson, but that didn’t matter elsewhere. And in his prime he appealed to voters of all political shades. In 2012, even Labour voters found Ken unappealing. Tony Blair was wrong in 1999 to try to block Ken ahead of the first mayoral election. But in 2012 Labour made the costly mistake of giving Ken one last chance.
Labour was the clear winner in yesterday’s local elections in England and Wales – and shared the spoils with the SNP in Scotland. Voters punished the coalition, whose performance this year has been abject. (Economy back in recession; a budget that took money from pensioners and gave it to the rich; three hour queues at Heathrow; the list goes on…)
It’s easy to explain away Labour’s good showing as the classic opposition gain from a government’s mid-term blues. But the Conservatives and Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats would be unwise to assume they’ll bounce back in the polls as the next general election nears. Spending cuts and state job costs have barely started.
The Liberal Democrats are in the bleakest position. As I wrote on the original Ertblog early in 2011, they have played their hand disastrously in government:
Above all, the Lib Dem leaders seem far too comfortable in their ministerial limos and offices, and far too little concerned about the catastrophic rush to slash and burn public services.
The happiest man in British politics tonight must be Ed Milliband (with Alex Salmond a close second). He’s faced constant criticism and sniping since beating his brother David in 2010’s leadership election. Praise for his stand against the Murdoch empire last year faded. But in recent months his fortunes are reviving. David Cameron is looking more like John Major at his most beleaguered than Tony Blair in his pomp. There’s no guarantee chat Milliband will be Britain’s next prime minister. But the idea no longer seems outlandish.