The Coalition's Fatal Flaw - Both Leaders Have Launched Coups D'etat against Their Own Parties

Daily Mail (London), July 10, 2010 | Go to article overview

The Coalition's Fatal Flaw - Both Leaders Have Launched Coups D'etat against Their Own Parties


Byline: PETER OBORNE ON POLITICS AND POWER www.dailymail.co.uk/peteroborne

TOMORROW, the coalition Government will be exactly two months old and already Britain feels like a different place. We have a prime minister who is running the country in a completely different way from Gordon Brown or Tony Blair. The changes are many, and significant.

Whereas New Labour was about personality, the Coalition is about substance. As memoirs from the leading figures of the Blair years have now confirmed, Downing Street under New Labour was dominated by a series of rancorous feuds among senior members of the inner circle. These involved Alastair Campbell, Peter Mandelson, Cherie Blair and Gordon Brown. It is partly for this reason that Tony Blair was distracted from firm governance. As a result, he squandered the golden economic legacy inherited from John Major and achieved very few lasting social changes.

By contrast, David Cameron has already started an ambitious programme of reform. Principally, he has addressed the need to slash Britain's disastrous debt burden. He has also made it clear that he intends to mend the broken welfare state and has launched a programme to improve schools standards.

Even if he achieves only one of these aims, he will have a claim to lead one of the more successful governments of recent years.

What's more, some observers believe this is the cleverest Cabinet for half a century. Harold Wilson's Cabinet of 1964-7 -- with such intellectual luminaries as Dick Crossman and Roy Jenkins -- has been rated as the brainiest Cabinet of modern times.

But, if anything, the Oxbridge-heavy Clegg/Cameron Coalition surpasses Wilson's for brainpower. Cabinet Office minister Oliver Letwin and David Willetts are two of the most intellectually gifted men ever to have served in any British government. Foreign Secretary William Hague, author of two widely praised political biographies, runs them close. Environment Secretary Chris Huhne, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Education Secretary Michael Gove all have top-class brains. So does David Cameron himself, who got a first at Oxford, with his tutor saying he was the brightest student he had ever taught.

ADMIRABLY, one of the Coalition's main characteristics is the importance it wants to give to the principle of freedom. Already, Nick Clegg and David Cameron have abolished ID cards, they have announced an inquiry into alleged British complicity in torture of terror suspects, ended the police's hated stop-and-search powers and today are due to unveil plans to remove hundreds of unnecessary health and safety regulations.

While it was a hallmark of New Labour that people's freedoms were constantly eroded, it is most refreshing to see the alacrity with which Nick Clegg and David Cameron are fighting to restore them. Ironically, Labour is now adopting an even more authoritarian, anti-freedom position -- witness former Home Secretary Jack Straw's accusation that the Coalition is being 'soft on crime'.

Another palpable change has been the way ministers are taking responsibility for their departments' mistakes rather than blaming civil servants. One of the most galling aspects of New Labour was how ministers hardly ever took responsibility for a series of debacles (from allegations about the torture of suspects to the outbreak of foot-and-mouth and the outing of weapons expert Dr David Kelly's identity as a BBC mole). Instead, they disgracefully turned their officials into scapegoats.

Harriet Harman, Gordon Brown, John Reid, David Blunkett, Beverley Hughes and many others took this cowardly route and blamed civil servants for their own errors of policy and mismanagement. But, of course, they always demanded personal credit if anything they did was a success.

How impressive it is to see ministers in the Cameron government returning to the honourable Whitehall tradition of accepting blame. …

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