Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What the Euro revolt says about Cameron

Some excellent points from the Nottingham University politics department.

Cameron seems to be living his premiership on fast forward - he's managed to spark the biggest Tory rebellion on Europe, losing by more than John Major ever did. Tony Blair took six years to lose a vote by a comparable amount and he had a larger majority to play with. Pretty much half of the Tory parliamentary party not on the government payroll or ladder decided to vote against their leader and it is very interesting that over half of the rebels were not old sceptics, but new boys and girls with just over a year in parliament under their belts.

Rebellion is addictive - once you've done it and burnt your ministerial bridges (at least under this Prime Minister), what's to stop you doing it again? For all Cameron's protestations that he has no problem with the rebels and that the matter is closed, he knows that this particular wound is very far from healed. As Tim Montgomerie points out in the Guardian, there is real distrust of this PM amongst his troops - he is seen as being too close to the Liberal Democrats. He wasn't helped today by Nick Clegg's ill-timed promise to fight against any move away from Europe, when internal government order would have been best served by silence on Clegg's part. It is a pretty solid rule in British politics that the electorate does not trust divided parties and the Tory party is divided three ways - the Euro-sceptics who understand the realities and are in the government; the Eurosceptics who stand on their principles and speak for most grassroots Tories; and Ken Clarke.

Montgomerie also raises another issue that has implications for government - that of Cameron's personal work ethic. This government has raised laissez-faire to an art form, but there is a point where you wonder whether it is an attempt to let a thousand flowers of chaos bloom or just laziness on the part of Downing Street. Some of the appalling management over the past year or so - Gove's BSF debacle, Spelman's trials over forests, Gove's books debacle, Lansley's reversals over the NHS and any of the range of avoidable ministerial disasters - all would have benefitted from closer attention from Number 10. Gordon Brown may have been too focussed on the detail personally to see some of the bigger issues, but Cameron appears to be at the opposite end of the spectrum. With the economy in dire straits and our trading partners in Europe on the verge of panic, now is not the time for the captain of the ship to be resting.

It isn't a question of if, but when the next revolt occurs and unless Cameron takes demonstrable control rapidly, he will find himself on a course for the rocks. Of course, the party can be brutal when it needs to - will they drop the pilot before the next election?

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