To return to one of my favourite themes … David Cameron didn’t win the election because he lacked strategic clarity. The public gave it to him – make a coalition work and sort out the economy.
That sense of shared purpose is dissipating quickly. Just one year from the Rose Garden civic partnership ceremony, Nick Clegg is telling anyone who still listens that he is a moderating influence and David Cameron is turning up as panto vilain to his own backbenchers to proclaim ‘oh no he’s not.’
Another of my favourite themes – division is habit-forming, the defeat for the government in the Lords on police reform is the latest example.
But it is Cameron’s remarks to the 1922 committee of his own backbenchers which are the most interesting example of the new mood in the coalition. He is effectively telling his MPs to ignore Clegg’s claims of influence and to understand that he is determined to do all he can to get an outright majority next time. A week ago he felt he had to build Clegg up. Now he is joining in the knocking Clegg down.
Another favourite theme – guided by George Osborne, Cameron will try at some point later in the Parliament to ‘park’ the Lib Dems and go it alone. Yesterday was but the latest signal of that, and clearer than for some time.
The problem both parties and leaders have is that they are beginning to look and sound like they care much more about their own status, profile and positions than the problems they have been asked to resolve.
It wouldn’t matter so much if their economic strategy was working. But it isn’t. We are now heading for inflation levels and inaction that make a mockery of the independent Bank’s role. We are also still no nearer getting an answer about how the private sector is going to fill the gaps Osborne is creating with his programme of cuts and sackings.
So the two central challenges for the coalition – show that the coalition can work and sort the economy – are not being met. Cameron is becoming more peevish. Clegg is looking more desperate. And Osborne is beginning to wonder whether he might need a Plan B after all.