Vote Tory! And SNP!
Newspapers love to think they have influence. Tony Blair grovelled to Rupert Murdoch to win The Sun’s endorsement in the 1997 election, after the paper claimed (wrongly) to have won John Major the 1992 poll. Yet this week’s decision by Murdoch to back two utterly opposing parties north and south of the border reveals the nonsense of such self important, cynical posturing.
I take exception to papers telling me how to vote. Democracy suffers through the massive bias in favour of the Tories. I also objected to the Guardian’s campaign against Boris Johnson in the 2008 London mayoral election. Yet the Sun’s laughable decision to back both the Tories and the SNP surely suggests the days when anyone paid attention to eve-of-election endorsements are coming to an end.
The coalition is looking more clumsy by the day. Yesterday chief whip Andrew Mitchell was forced to resign four weeks after swearing at a police officer in Downing Street and allegedly calling him a pleb. The same day, Chancellor George Osborne was spotted travelling first class on a Virgin train to London despite only having a standard class ticket.
ITV reporter Rachel Townsend tweeted about the incident, suggesting Osborne’s aide disputed the need to pay for an upgrade. Virgin claims there was no dispute.
The amazing thing is that Osborne didn’t have the common sense to see how the incident would be perceived. The Mitchell saga has highlighted the government’s reputation as a cabinet of millionaires out of touch with the real world. The sight of a very rich Chancellor refusing to travel standard class reinforces that image. Yes, many of us have resented paying through the nose for a ticket yet not having a seat. But we’re not going to be embarrassed by media coverage of slyly sitting in first and hoping not to have to upgrade. Osborne’s expensive Eton education doesn’t seem to have included lessons in common sense.
The Mitchell saga was bizarre. It excited the politicos, but had little impact in the real world. Mitchell was foolish to pick a row with a police officer, but he’s not the first person to fly off the handle after a bad day. The police haven’t emerged unscathed: leaking the officer’s report to the papers and using it as a political weapon. But the biggest lesson is that an early, sincere apology goes a long way to defuse a row. Had Mitchell offered one, rather than a late, grudging apology, he’d still be chief whip. Instead, he’s reinforced impressions of the Tories as a bunch of toffs.
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…