My old father had a maxim which I’ve sometimes ignored, and usually to my cost.
Never wrestle with a chimney sweep, because you can’t come out clean. Not for the first time I was reminded of it when Nick and Dave (I nearly wrote Chas and Dave, given the Essex background) reaffirmed their vows in a Basildon tractor factory. Two years ago it was a rose garden but this time there was a different perfume, not just oil and exhaust, but putrefaction. Two posh boys on a photo opp while the economy decays and the dragooned workers can’t wait to get back to work to recover their bonuses.
It’s hard to think of a political fi gure in a democracy who has fallen further and harder than the soot-encrusted Nick Clegg. On the eve of the general election, he appeared pristine, not a stain on his escutcheon, and he was lauded by the commentariat. And now? Well, you wouldn’t buy a used Fiat tractor from him in a parking lot in Basildon. And his party, perhaps, soon to be his deceased party? It’s been decimated in elections and is distrusted everywhere because of its leader’s betrayals. Remember the pledge on tuition fees? Watch as he acquiesces in the destruction of the NHS in England. TOWIE?
The only way is oblivion.
If there is a symbol of how out of touch the Prime Minister and his political catamite are it’s the tractor factory setting, clearly dreamed up by some public school spin doctor who has never been downwind of a smokestack. This is where Soviet bureaucrats announced fi ve-year plans toasted plentifully in vodka which always failed to be fulfi lled, often to the accompanied crash of fi ring squads. This time, it was a seven-year plan, at the last count, but that could have been extended by the time this reaches you, and just as certainly it will be as hopelessly wrong as any cobbled together by a Georgian apparatchik.
And likewise, as speeches were re-written and truths and inconveniences airbrushed from the record under Stalin, Cameron managed to re-define language so that ‘austerity’ became ‘effi ciency’. Tell that to an unemployed singleparent in Bradford, Basildon or Beauly, or indeed a factory worker in Essex, or a former one in Linwood, where we used to make cars.
I’m coming onto it, the soaring failure of the Coalition, but before that, here’s a quote gleaned from Radio 4 by the man who used to occupy an adjacent offi ce to me in the Westminster Parliament, Malcolm Rifkind. Sir Malkie recalled a British ambassador trying to deliver a speech in Moscow. Th e text was, ‘Th e spirit is willing but the fl esh is weak,’ which translated as, ‘We have lots of vodka but we’re short of meat.’ And short of meat is surely what Nick and Dave are, sawdust-dancing while the economy flatlines, while the right-wing try to flog the immigrants, and the few remaining Lib Dems try to pirouette gamely on the head of a pin.
Bur who would’ve thought it, that the best contemporary example of the failure of coalition was the Nick and Dave marriage, or knee-trembler, but the lesson doesn’t seem to have been heeded in Scotland. Labour and the SNP in bed in Edinburgh? The pre-nup being that they are both social democratic parties.
Be serious! It’s undeniable that the Nats have gone from being Tartan Tories and have pushed through policies – popular policies, which is what politics is mainly about – which Labour should have been championing, like ruling out tuition fees, defending pensioners and the NHS.
But Labour’s clothes have been stolen, and when they wake up they’ll fi nd the wallet gone too.
Th e only way to coalesce when you don’t have a majority is on an issue-by-issue basis, which is what we’ll be doing in Bradford where we hold the balance of power after the council elections.
Which is where Nick has been seduced, by the state Mondeo and the armed Special Branch officers, the state banquets and the personal profiles, the hike in wages and the glimpses of the top-secret fi les He has abandoned the best interests of his party and the electorate for personal aggrandisement. He will never be forgiven. And neither will Labour, in Edinburgh or elsewhere, when it embraces the sweep.
I’m a pretty well-known opponent of independence and I’ll certainly be campaigning hard against it. Alex Salmond, until recently a consummate operator, has sullied himself – and surely damaged his party in the polls – with the leaked emails about kissing and not telling with Murdoch. When you trawl the gutter, you harvest the filth. But where we do agree – and I thought I’d never say this – is on the economy.
This Lib Dem-Tory Coalition is carrying out a neo-liberal experiment on the country which has failed wherever it has been tried. This cannot just be about austerity, or efficiency, it has to be about growth. The only way we can avoid a triple-dip recession is by investing in infrastructure, like house building, creating thousands of jobs, so that people have money in their pockets to go out and spend, rather than the policies of this government, which is to strangle growth by putting more and more people on less and less benefits. Th is was a Friedmanite policy pursued by Johann Lamont’s namesake, Norrie Lamont, then Chancellor of the Exchequer. It didn’t work then and it won’t now.
The Scottish Government needs power over the economy, pulling the levers for the worthy rather than the wealthy, which is why I favour a second question option on the ballot paper, however it’s phrased and whatever it’s called.
Devo-max? Independence lite? However it’s described, it should be full economic powers short of secession.