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Tory plotters mull ‘sacking’ Lib Dems as Lib Dems continue to grump about Gove

6 February 2014

What are the Coalition parties going to do for the next few months in the run-up to the general election? Judging by the way the Liberal Democrats have behaved this week, they’re going to spend a great deal of time talking about Michael Gove, which isn’t encouraging for anyone who got a little bored of that particular ding-dong around the time of the childcare debacle. They’re certainly not planning to do much in the way of legislating, either. At today’s Business Statement in the House of Commons, Angela Eagle mocked Andrew Lansley for announcing very little in the way of government business:

‘I thank the Leader of the House for his business statement, but it was yet again so devoid of actual Government business that he may as well have let me or the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee do it. In the past four weeks, more than 60% of our time has been taken up by non-Government business, because this is a zombie coalition staggering around with no discernible purpose. Is that all we can expect for the next 15 months? This Government have not just given up on legislating; they have given up on listening to Parliament, too.’

This is partly because neither party wants to rock the boat with some dreadful legislation ahead of the election. But it’s also because to a certain extent they’ve run out of road on reforms they both agree on. As James said last week, the Coalition is cohabiting, but in the absence of much legislation, they’re behaving like a couple who’ve both just retired and, with plenty of time on their hands, have realised they don’t really get on.

When he gave evidence to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee earlier today, Lord O’Donnell was rather sanguine about this ‘zombie government’ at the end of a Coalition, but argued that having ‘somewhat less legislation’ could be an ‘opportunity to emphasise implementation’ instead. He also suggested that this lacuna might mean the parties could sit back and have big debates about long-term issues such as dementia, childhood obesity and social care.

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This sounds like a classic mandarin view: perhaps he’d fancy a few Royal Commissions in the mix, too? And there would be few topics that need long-term debates where the parties would be prepared to have long-term debates: just look at that dreadful debate in the House of Commons on food banks before Christmas for an example of a big issue that has become entirely poisoned by partisan point-scoring.

But the problem with O’Donnell’s implementation thesis is firstly that the Lib Dems are desperately keen to differentiate and are busy talking about all the things they don’t like about the Tories. Their choice of Michael Gove as Number One target has privately frustrated some among their number who think Liberals should be claiming credit for school reforms they agree with rather than engaging in a personal tussle. Secondly, Tory MPs are still cross about Europe, and as Tim Montgomerie reports in the Times today, don’t plan to give up causing trouble just yet.

Jacob Rees-Mogg writes today on the Telegraph website that it ‘may now be time for the Prime Minister to abandon the Sisyphean fight to maintain collective responsibility and to set out his own agenda for the next five years’. And as I reported on Tuesday, some of his colleagues want the Tories to try to force through the EU referendum bill as a government bill, rather than using another backbench bill and the Parliament Act. Because to do so in a Coalition would be to break the government equivalent of the laws of physics – Sir Jeremy Heywood would not be able to authorise his civil servants to work on a bill that one Coalition partner was blocking – these MPs really mean that the Conservatives should move to a minority government by what one plotter described as ‘sacking the Lib Dems’ in some way. The problem is that none of them can work out how the Tories could ‘sack’ the Lib Dems, even though they’ve been giving it detailed thought. That they’re buzzing around thinking about this isn’t a good sign, though.

So what are the two Coalition parties going to do in the next few months? Brood and sulk, it appears. Which is a shame because Gus O’Donnell has a point when he says they could use this space to talk about all the reforms they have agreed on, which have been radical and which should tell voters a good story about both parties in 2015.

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Show comments
  • kyalami

    It’s not a “few months” – it is well over a year. No government can afford to waste that. Get some laws on the book that will set the tone for the next government. Any idiot can make up excuses for doing nothing.

  • Frank

    Hate to admit it but Gus O’Donnell is right. Parliament could usefully sort out various bad bits of legislation and introduce badly needed tweaks to existing legislation. For example sorting out the test of corporate liability for corporate fraud. It is strange, but possibly not surprising, that no politician has identified this course of action as beneficial to the nation.

  • Tony_E

    Almost no government legislation? Brilliant. We have been legislated into submission by Labour for years – a new criminal offence for every day they were in office. A little less green paper would be a welcome relief.

    But ‘sacking’ the Lib Dems. They would not be acting in the way they have been unless they were pretty confident that couldn’t happen. They have a major support problem – half or more of their support was simply Labour voters who couldn’t stand the sleazy ‘new Labour’ and defected to ‘anyone else of the left’. The leadership, (Clegg/Laws/Alexander), were more Liberal than Socialist, despite the noises from others like Cable, Farron and others. Their main chance at the next election is to be ‘more red than yelow’, but not as red as the untrusted despised Ed & Ed.

    They set out their stall when they voted down the boundary changes – it was the clearest signal that they had made that move – that they accepted that the best chance for power was a move to the left and a coalition with Labour at the next election. It was electoral strategy, not spite over Lords reform. That was simply a backdated excuse for shifting the goalposts.

  • Colonel Mustard

    Hmm, not many of the usual suspect Labour trolls daubing graffiti on the threads here tonight. Is that because they are all twenty-something wonks and Thursday night is drinking night?

  • 2trueblue

    The Tories should make it clear that there will be no coalition after the next election.

  • roger

    Why is it so important to make any more new laws anyway?
    If they have so much time on their hands why don’t they go about repealing all the bad laws that are presently in place. That should keep them busy.

    • Andy

      They don’t have the wit for that.

  • Colonel Mustard

    Bored with. Fed up with.

    Tired of.

  • Mynydd

    The Lib Dem are caught up in a proxy war between Mr Cameron and Conservative back bench MPs

  • HookesLaw

    More absured rubbish from thick tory backbenchers.
    Montgomerie for his part ignores the rebels shooting the tory party in the foot by opposing Lords reform and losing boundary changes and totally glosses over the disgraceful way thick tories happily supported Labour’s blatantly political stance over Syria.

    • Hello

      Blocking Lords reform was a good call. Boundary changes will go through in 2018, whereas Lords reform would come back to bite.

    • Smithersjones2013

      If these Tories are so thick why would anyone want to vote for them?

      • Hello

        Because they are voting for Cameron.

  • anyfool

    The Tories might gain if the Lib Dems show the face of what they really are, sour faced losers, but the gains will be offset by the war of attrition that is going to take place between some of the strong minded Tory back benchers and the slithering two faced members who represent, the weak and feeble minded part of the electorate

  • JoeDM

    They should have had a minority government in 2010 and forced another general election if the Limp Dumbos etc. wouldn’t support them.

    • HookesLaw

      You imply that the tories should play politics in the middle of a national crisis.
      One reason why there is not much govt business announced is that there is not much govt business *to* announce. A large amount has been done which the usual suspects chose to ignore.
      All the LDs are going to achive by attacking the govt they are a part of is to speed theor own demise.

      • berosos_bubos

        by preventing the Conservatives implementing policies that could allow them a majority they increase the probability of themseleves being in a coalition with Labour from 2015.

      • Smithersjones2013

        So the Tories deciding to govern alone is ‘playing politics’ is it? God forbid they ever ‘play politics’ again then…..

      • Andy

        Don’t be idiotic. By forming a Minority Government Cameron would have been following the Constitution – it was for Brown to present a Gracious Speech if he thought he could command a majority, but he knew he couldn’t. Her Majesty would then have summoned Cameron to see if he could command a majority, and I think he could have done so. A coalition with the evil LibDums was a big mistake.

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