Thursday, December 09, 2010

Another good day to bury bad news

Of course, the focus today will be on the machinations of the Liberal Democrat party as Clegg tries to herd cats through the division lobbies. It is a mark of his leadership that he has to rely on the payroll vote to avoid a total embarrassment - marshalling the Lib Dem ministerial team through the Ayes lobby and watching some of the others head off to the other side, while others may even manage to sprint through both to register an abstention (and to conveniently be able to say in leaflets and campaigns that they voted against the tuition fees rise - although I'm sure they won't dare do that) as suggested by our very own John Hemming and mentioned in PMQs yesterday.

The whole affair has been a shambles over the past week or so - Vince has been about to abstain on his own policy without resigning his post, junior ministers are about to resign to vote against, the whole parliamentary party will abstain, now all ministers will vote for and everybody else will do whatever. Even yesterday evening, there was talk that Chris Huhne would be forced to fly back from Cancun to cast his vote in favour - nobody spotting the irony of the Climate Change Secretary burning tonnes of carbon unnecessarily solely to satisfy a political need. At 6pm, he was on his way back, but within the hour, that had been reversed and he was staying in Cancun.

Certainly, this is a defining moment for the Liberal Democrats - the point where they realise that sometimes, promises you make in opposition come back to bite you when political reality dawns. For them, I think this is their poll tax or vote on Iraq - it will cause them pain far into the future as it disappoints a vast swathe of their natural supporters, bitter that a party that ran a heavy campaign on this issue and a party election broadcast promising to keep their promises - unlike everybody else - is abandoning a totemic policy for short term political gain. This will reverberate for some time to come and will cost them seats on councils and ultimately, will cost MPs. Wednesday's YouGov poll saw them on just 8% vote share - essentially a wipeout of the party if that was replicated on a national scale today.

But there are other things afoot today.

It has been suggested that today will be the day that local authorities find out their funding settlements for the next financial year - it has been promised during December and the 9th was set as launch day. With the panic at Eric Pickles' Department of Local Government over recent weeks as civil servants tried to ameliorate the damage of the revised calculations and the agreed cut in the overall budget, the much-trumpeted Localism Bill yesterday fell by the wayside again - no legislative time, apparently. With cuts of up to 38% forecast for some of the worst-hit councils - coincidentally, also the poorest - it might not just be the students suffering from today's decisions.

As the focus will be on the demonstrations and the shameful, deceitful vote in support of trebling fees, expect other little gems to be buried today and tomorrow.

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