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As the Commons went into recess, both David Cameron and Nick Clegg were desperately trying to reassert their authority – not just over the government but their political parties as a whole.
For Cameron, the last couple of weeks must be like falling into an ever-deepening pit, lined with members of his own party who are criticising him and calling him ugly names.
UKIP – or, as I think I’ll call them from now on, BLIP – humiliated him at the local elections; the EU issue stayed with him when his own Parliamentary party tried to amend the Queen’s speech; Tory grandees including Tebbit, Howe and Lawson spoke against him; he alienated his grassroots party members, who now firmly believe that the Tories in government think they are “swivel-eyed loons”; and this week he alienated them again by pushing through the same-sex marriage bill via a deal with Labour, even though Conservative association members have been saying that his government is now acting against the wishes of modern Conservatives.
(Traditionally, if an amendment to the so-called ‘Gracious speech’ had succeeded, Cameron would have been forced to resign and a new government would have had to be formed. An alternative amendment, put forward by Labour’s John Mann, regretted that there was no plan for a referendum on the Coalitions shameful and abhorrent treatment of the National Health Service. Had Speaker John Bercow chosen this for discussion, matters might have been very different indeed.)
Apparently there has been some kind of campaign to oust Nick Clegg as Liberal Democrat leader, but he is now such an irrelevance to politics that I couldn’t be bothered to look up the details.
It is in this atmosphere that both men (we can hardly call them leaders any more) took to speechifying, as if talking themselves up would make any difference.
It didn’t help that Cameron included one statement that we can all see is blatantly untrue: He said the Conservative Party was a “broad church” and would continue to be, under his leadership. In fact it has become – more than ever before – a minority-interest group, aiming to suck all the money in the country into the hands of the wealthiest party members and their friends in big business, impoverishing the rest. This blog has made that clear from the start.
Cameron said the government was focused on issues that were “squarely in the national interest”. Let’s have a look at some of those issues.
The Huffington Post tells us that it may be possible to use the forthcoming Anti-Social Behaviour Bill to make homelessness a crime – and this has given rise to fears that, in conjunction with the Conservatives’ implementation of laws that make it extremely hard for poorer people to keep up rent payments on their homes, and their support of privately-owned prisons, they are planning to bring back the 19th-century idea of the workhouse, with poor people worked mercilessly to make money for the idle rich. It may seem like fantasy, but there’s something in it!
What about the failure of the Work Programme? Does anyone remember Iain Duncan Smith (Vox‘s Monster of the Year, 2012) wagging his finger and screaming at Owen Jones on Question Time last year – “I didn’t hear you screaming about two and a half million people who were parked, nobody saw them, for over 10 years, not working, no hope, no aspiration. We are changing their lives”. In fact, the government is not changing their lives, unless Mr… Smith admits he meant changing them for the worse.
Parliament’s Work and Pensions Committee has discovered “growing evidence” that organisations involved in the Work Programme are the ones that are “parking” the most disadvantaged people, who had spent the longest period of time out of work.
They’re not interested in helping people; they don’t want to boost the economy by increasing employment. All these firms want is their pay packet from the Department of Work and Pensions. That is what we see.
And we have Michael Gove, failing the youth of this nation with his ridiculous ideas about education. These can be summed up by saying, “State education must never be as good as private education and state pupils must never be allowed to achieve high results”. This is why he interfered with the marking of GCSE exam papers last year (did he do it to A-levels as well?), prompting the Welsh and Northern Irish education ministers to intervene.
Mr Gove’s reaction to that, revealed this week, has been to write to the ministers concerned, suggesting that they should set up their own examination system. A Whitehall source, quoted in The Guardian, said: “The Welsh are determined to keep dumbing down their exams. Leighton Andrews interfered with exam boards last year. He opposes our attempts to toughen things up and made clear he will continue to interfere to make things easier. It’s better that we all go our own way and defend our positions to our electorates.”
For a Conservative Party that is supposedly trying not to be divisive, those words are a shot in the foot.
The Welsh Government, seeing this for what it is, responded tersely: “Wales is keeping GCSEs and A-levels, as is Northern Ireland. We wish Mr Gove well with his plans to rename these qualifications in England.” In other words, it is the English system under Gove that will let pupils down.
This is the landscape we currently inhabit. The government has treated the people abominably and seems determined to continue in the same manner. Sympathy for it is draining away and the people are looking for an alternative.
It’s time for Her Majesty’s Opposition – the Labour Party – to step up and offer that alternative. Not ‘Tory Lite’ or another shade of neoliberalism but a genuine plan to improve this once-great nation’s fortunes.
Over to you, Mr Miliband. No pressure.