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Jerry Hayes

Clegg and Cable must abandon the game of Belgian roulette where every player dies. The Lib Dems are no longer the party of the dispossessed nor the stoma bag of Tory policy.

November 28th, 2010 by Jerry Hayes

The Coalition should be breathing a sigh of relief  if David Willett’s  announcement Vince Cable will be voting for reforming tuition fees after all is accurate.

Clegg and Vince Cable have been engaged in a very dangerous game of Belgian Roulette. Unlike the  Russian game, where just one chamber is loaded, Belgium roulette has the added excitement of each chamber being filled with enough lead to kill every player.Everyone dies.

It is no secret that spotty little policy wonks and prepubescent spinners have been putting it about that Clegg and Cable would be voting against tuition fees. Although there is not a shred of evidence that this potentially suicidal operation has been sanctioned from above, it certainly hasn’t been discouraged.  And in Fleet Street lore unless something is denied it must be true.

The pressures on Clegg and Cable are enormous. Their party is well down in the polls, while David Cameron bestrides the political world like a Boden Collossus.  Their party made the perfectly forgivable mistake of promising the economically impossible to their student power base at a time when there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell of them ever having to implement it. Now the students are kicking up rough, the grass roots are angry and confused and backbenchers being threatened with being strung by their gonads from local lamposts. Alien territory for a party used to being a convenient spitoon for the politically dispossesed. But now some Liberal Democrats see themselves as merely the Stoma bag of Conservative policy. And with party President Tim Ferron, a young man in a hurry, desperately trying to prove that he does possess political pubic hair, serious errors of judgement  might be made.

For Clegg , Cable and any other member of the government who is a Lib Dem to vote against the reforms will destroy all the credibility that they have gained since the General Election as a party of government and responsibility. How on earth can you promote a policy on the basis of fairness and then not support it? It would be the coward’s way out with no political gains.  The students will still despise them and the grass roots will still be in turmoil. It would be the worst of all worlds with Ed Miliband leading the Labour  lynch mob.

There appears to be three strands of thought permeating the Coalition at the moment. The Tory right see the Lib Dems as a disposable means to achieving a Tory majority. The left wing Lib Dems see the Tories as a stepping stone to a deal with a future Coalition with Labour. And finally the narrative that makes the most sense, is the most exciting, and has been endorsed by John Major last week, is fighting the next election on a Coalition ticket. This is no longer a vague aspiration floated by excitable commentators. It is an achievable goal.

Both right and left will throw their toys out of the pram. Councillors will resign. Some Parliamentarians might take their chances with other parties. There will be frenzied talk about Tea Parties.  But the non tribal, pragmatic, political mainstream,  despise totempoling  and will embrace it with enthusiasm.

There is still a very long way to go, but the Election address of Harold Macmillan in October 1931 for his beloved constituency of Stockton on Tees may not be far from David Cameron’s mind when the General Election is called in May 2015:

“Follow the lead of the distinguished Liberals. Vote for Macmillan the National Candidate, thus securing the nation against disaster”.

Has a sort of ring about it doesn’t it?

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By accident or design the glutinous mass that is Simon Heffer has wobbled upon a story. But it’s the wrong one.It won’t be Cable’s head on a platter but the immigration cap.

September 18th, 2010 by Jerry Hayes

By accident rather by design, the chippy, glutinous mass that is Simon Heffer, has wobbled  upon a story. Of course,  it’s the wrong story, but no matter. For the Ginger Whinger, scourge of all things Dave, high priest to the bells and smells cult of the Tories, wants Vince Cable’s head on a dark blue platter. His offence? Breaking collective responsibility over his criticism of  a government proposal to cap immigrant workers.

This is portrayed  as the beginnings of  fissure between the Tories and the Lib Dems within the coalition. It is not. It is the opening act of a  split between those, who for tribal reasons want to crack down on immigration, and those who want to see sensible curbs, but don’t want to destroy industry’s competitive base by starving it of skilled labour from abroad. Boris Johnson has been warning of this for weeks.

And the fact that Downing Street’s response to Cable was neither to distance, nor to condemn, but rather, “We expect the Business Secretary to be speaking up for business”, is a sign that policy changes are in the offing.

And why not? Let’s end the racket of bogus language courses, of economic marriages and all the scams that Labour totally ignored to keep their inner city vote. But it would be quite insane to ignore the views of those who provide the wealth and the jobs.

Of course, there will be squeals of protest from the right, who will accuse Cameron of betraying Tory principles of finally going Lib Dem native. But they would be quite wrong. The reason why effective and commonsense government has been squandered over the years is that parties have been terrified to admit errors of policy.  As W H Auden observed, “All good drama has two movements, first the making of the mistake and then the discovery that it was a mistake”. He should have added a third, “when politicians carry on blindly, regardless, to the detriment of the country”.

The beauty of this Coalition is that you are unlikely to see too many politicians of note reciting mantras that they clearly have not a shred of belief  in. Of course there will be compromises, there has to be. Yes, there will be disagreements. Although the real dilution of partisanship in decision making is a relatively novel concept,  it has made an encouraging and popular start.

So what horrors will the Lib Dem Conference provide? I may be proved hopelessly wrong, but I suspect that there will be, with obvious reservations, a real sense of optimistic purpose. Nick Clegg wasn’t entirely right when he said that the Lib Dems never were and aren’t  a receptacle for leftwing dissatisfaction within Labour. Their problem was that they were  a convenient spittoon for everyone fed up with the mainstream parties.

This has now changed. They have shown that they can take tough decisions and can be a responsible part of government. This is both a blessing and a terror. A blessing, because the Coalition has flown in the face of cynicism and dumbfounded its critics and works. And a terror to Labour, who must adapt or die.

Most of Cameron’s Tories have seen the light, though it will be a bumpy ride. But whoever emerges from the rubble of the Labour leadership elections will have to act with confidence, speed and skill. Whether they are allowed to is entirely another matter. Political debts will have to be paid. And the deficit is bordering on the Grecian.

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Call me an old cynic but what is Vince Cable up to?

May 30th, 2010 by Jerry Hayes

The personal tragedy of David Laws is not the beginning of the end of the coalition nor even the end of the beginning, but it has diverted attention away from a potential hazard that puzzles me. I can understand why Vince Cable wanted to relinquish the role of Deputy Leader of his party, which is about as relevant and utilitarian as a cat flap in a submarine. To abandon the rubber chicken circuit, administering counselling to a potentially fractious grass roots is a distraction from the enormities of his cabinet job. In fact,nobody in their right mind would want the job, which is probably why Simon Hughes is so keen to get it. But why did Cable anoint him as his successor?

Simon is a lovely chap, delightfully disorganized and brimming with ideas. Yet he does represent the Rampton Wing of his party. In the days when the SDP was just a mischievous glint in David Owen’s eye, Simon was leading the unreconstructed woolly hat brigade. Bizarre compromises would suddenly appear from nowhere. In the emotionally charged debate on the age of sexual equality Simon announced to the House that the age on consent should be seventeen. Why? Heaven knows. And recently, in an almost Whovian strangulation of logic, he came up with the corker of setting up Lib Dem shadows for his own coalition government. Matron! Medication quickly!

So, call me an old cynic, but what is Vince Cable up to? He is a thoroughly able member of the government and committed to the coalition, but every fibre of his cerebral cortex is that of tax and spend. The poor chap has probably had to develop more reverse gears than an Italian tank. Does he want Hughes in place to stoke the flames of Liberalism? To be the tweaker in Chief of consciences? To harrow the government with every crackers idea that slips into the Hughes mind? This may not be the plan but the reality could be a total nightmare. It’s difficult enough getting policy through the department, then Number 10, then the Treasury, then the Commons and Lords without the added factor of Hughesian bonkery validated with some form of democratic mandate.

And then there are the other candidates for the job. Just where are they?  I’m sure Tim Farron is a lovely chap, but when I Googled him, Paris Hilton’s dogs got more column inches. He’s not even a household name in his own household. But there are some perfectly sensible people who could do a sane  and sensible job in helping keep the Lib Dems’ feet on the ground. What about Don Foster, Bob Russell or even bring in old stagers like Alan Beith or Malcolm Bruce. And what about shoving Paul Keetch into the Lords and giving him the job?  The talent is there, it’s just that someone at the top needs to think this through.

And as for Simon Hughes? A challenge. Put him in charge of a commission which will take years to report back, make him President of the Council of Europe. You could even make him Governor of Bermuda. Just keep him busy and out of the way.

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