I know the new Tory-Lib boys and girls think they are the new masters of the universe, and with a tame media blowing wind into their sails, they are enjoying being in government, and to some extent nobody will blame them for that.
But might I humbly suggest they are letting the skirts of their strategy show a little too much. With the message of cuts well established, the first batch announced under David Laws, the Office for Budget Responsibility up and running and setting out the context, and a Budget due any day now, yesterday’s statement by chief secretary Danny Alexander was as much about further messaging as it was about the detail he was announcing.
Though there will be pain and irritation for some of the projects he was reversing, the figures involved, set against the Budget as a whole, were tiny. It was in part an attempt by Alexander to get noticed, and to ally himself to the cuts message which Nick Clegg wants him to embrace so whole-heartedly, but above all another place to make Labour rather than the coalition the issue.
It is a highly political strategy at a time their main message for the public is that they are taking the difficult decisions required to get the economy back on track. It is an easier one for the Tories to execute because they did at least have a different message and a different approach during the run up to the election, and because the public have an instinctive understanding of the Tories as small state enthusiastic cutters.
But … was in Newsnight that had a clip of Nick Clegg lambasting the Tories during the campaign for the early cuts they would make and the fierce resistance he would put up? Yet look how tamely he rolled over to Cameron and Osborne on the loan to Sheffield Forgemasters. And look how eagerly Alexander stepped in to do Osborne’s dirty work.
I was pleased to see David Miliband hitting back hard on the notion that these were sound economic decisions as opposed to political positioning. I think Danny would have shown a bit more nous to have left it to George to deal with in the Budget, when a lot more will be going on, than to have sought out this rather odd moment in the spotlight.
The game was all a bit too obvious. And once people see it is a game, in the Tories’ case to justify cuts they always wanted to make, in the Libs’ to justify the near complete reveral of their position on many of these issues, their grumpiness will outweigh even the honeymoon warmth being generated by a media love-in.
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