Conservatives are 'ruthless, calculating and thoroughly tribal', says Cable
Saturday 07 May 2011
Business Secretary Vince Cable this morning said that the coalition would continue in a "businesslike" fashion, despite yesterday's election and referendum results, but made clear that Liberal Democrats would not accept policies which go beyond last year's agreement with Tories - such as proposals for NHS reform.
Mr Cable told Today: "Some of us never had many illusions about the Conservatives, but they have emerged as ruthless, calculating and thoroughly tribal.
"But that doesn't mean to say we can't work with them. I think they have always been that way, but you have to be businesslike and professional and you have to work with people who aren't your natural bedfellows and that is being grown-up in politics. We are going to continue to do that."
Mr Cable added: "We have a coalition agreement which is a very good agreement and which is balanced and which we have to deliver and that is the text around which we should operate in future, while not losing sight of the central purpose of the coalition, which is to sort out this economic mess."
A lot of measures in the coalition agreement have "not yet been realised", such as reforms to the banking system, the removal of people earning less than £10,000 out of income tax and reform of party funding, said Mr Cable.
And he added: "The health service reforms went some way beyond what was in the coalition agreement and that is going to be a major issue as we go forward."
Mr Cable said that AV was "dead for the foreseeable future" because of the referendum result, but said this did not mean that the question of wider electoral reform was off the table.
"Certainly AV is dead for the foreseeable future. The people have spoken and we have to respect that result and not reopen it," he said.
"But electoral reform certainly isn't and there is a good practical reason for that. The House of Lords reform has got to be faced. We can't continue to have a system where the upper house consists entirely of members appointed by politicians and we are moving towards an elected system.
"That will presumably and hopefully have to be based on some form of proportional voting. So that issue is going to come back quite quickly."
And he did not rule out a renewed debate over change to the voting system for electing MPs: "Future governments anyway are going to have to come back to the wider issue of electoral reform because the problems remain as they are now.
"We have an incredibly fragmented political system, we see in Wales and Scotland four parties trying to battle it out and we have to have some form of development of the voting system beyond first-past-the-post, otherwise you get ludicrously unrepresentative results."
There was resistance on the Conservative backbenches to any further concessions to the Liberal Democrats to shore up their position.
Bernard Jenkin, a member of the backbench 1922 Committee, said the Government should concentrate on "doorstep issues" like cutting tax and reducing the deficit, rather than Lords reform, which had little salience for the public.
Mr Jenkin told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We went into this coalition for good or ill, and we made our concessions to the Liberal Democrats. One of those concessions was the referendum. We have now had the referendum and just because the referendum went a particular way not suiting the Liberal Democrats, it seems extraordinary that effectively we have got to start reopening the coalition agreement...
"The idea that there are going to be some more transactions in this relationship is not going to impress the voters at all... The concessions have been made."
The Harwich and North Essex MP suggested that it may be time for those on the right of the Lib Dems to consider splitting the party and taking the Conservative whip.
"There is a structural problem in the Liberal Democrats that no amount of concessions can put right," said Mr Jenkin. "That is simply that they are a far more diverse and broad coalition than the Conservative Party.
"I think one or two of them ought to be thinking, if they want a long-term future in politics, should they be seeking to broaden the Conservative coalition by becoming more embedded in the Conservative Party.
"The real future of how to stabilise the coalition towards the end of its life is how the next election will be conducted. after 1922 and the collapse of the Liberal/Conservative coalition, a lot of Liberals then sat in the House of Commons as National Liberals and took the Conservative whip.
"I think that is the kind of conversation we need to be having with some of the more reasonable Liberal Democrats, even though I disagree fundamentally with some of them."
Mr Jenkin said such a move could lead to an electoral pact with individual Lib Dems not to stand against them at the next election: "If certain Liberal Democrats were to promise to take the Conservative whip after the next election, then there is a case for not opposing those particular MPs."
Liberal Democrat transport minister Norman Baker told Today that Mr Clegg had been "let down" by Mr Cameron.
"I don't think he was very fairly treated by the Prime Minister in the AV referendum arrangements and it is very easy to make him a scapegoat," said Mr Baker.
"In the AV referendum, you might equally blame Ed Miliband for failing to come out and do anything useful at all to mobilise the Labour Party to support a policy which he espoused.
"I suspect that David Cameron was lent on by his backbenchers to be more of a Tory and less of a coalition politician. I think David Cameron ought to have disavowed some of the material used by the AV campaign and he did not do so. I think that doesn't help either his own reputation as Prime Minister and it doesn't help coalition relations either."
Asked if Mr Clegg had been betrayed by the Prime Minister, Mr Baker said: "I prefer the word 'let down'."
Home Secretary Theresa May said yesterday's results need not change the way the coalition operates, which involves "a degree of compromise" between the parties.
Mrs May told BBC Radio 4's Today: "I think we are going to be carrying on doing what we have been doing over the past year.
"After the general election, both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties recognised that the will of the British people was for parties to work together at a time of national crisis inn the national interest.
"That is why we came together and formed the coalition Government. It is what we have been doing over the past year and it is what we are going to carry on doing."
She added: "Of course we are different parties, and we continue as different parties to fight elections separately. I don't think there is any suggestion within the coalition that somehow party identity is lost. It isn't.
"But what coalition government by its very nature means is that there will on some issues be a degree of compromise because there are two parties coming together to find a solution that works in the national interest.
"So by definition, yes, there will be some difficult discussions sometimes about issues that arise. There will sometimes be a need to come to a degree of compromise. That's what coalition is about."
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