Seven days that changed the political landscape
The events of the past week have forced observers to think the unthinkable on an almost daily basis, says Andy McSmith
Tuesday 18 May 2010
When harold Wilson said that "a week is a long time in politics" he was referring to the speed at which events can overtake a politician. The past seven days have been a breathtaking demonstration. A week ago today, Gordon Brown was Prime Minister, the United Kingdom had not had a coalition government for 65 years, and weary negotiators from the main parties were facing another day trying to thrash out an agreement that would allow somebody to govern.
Now all that is behind us, but before it fades from memory, here are seven lessons from seven days.
Politicians do not have to squabble
It took two days of heavy negotiating, but in the end the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats buried their differences and David Cameron received his long awaited summons to Buckingham Palace. The public had become impatient with the delay. Some people even, illogically, saw the public horse trading as an argument for introducing proportional representation – but under PR, every election would be followed by negotiations. That was one Liberal Democrat demand Mr Cameron did not concede. Instead, there will be a referendum on whether to introduce the Alternative Vote, which is a different animal.
Nick Clegg is not a joke
Having sealed the deal, Mr Cameron and Nick Clegg strode side by side into the garden of 10 Downing Street for their first joint press conference. It was all sunshine and smiles, until someone reminded the new Prime Minister of the occasion when he was asked what his favourite joke was, and he replied "Nick Clegg". Mr Cameron had to confess that it was true.
Gordon Brown is human
A major factor in Labour's defeat was Gordon, with the smile that did not fit his face and the social clumsiness that could not tell a bigot from an ordinary Rochdale pensioner. So he resigned. Then it turned out that he is the affectionate father of two handsome boys with cheeky smiles. At his first post-election appearance in his Kirkcaldy constituency, he was relaxed and bubbling with self-deprecating jokes. Strange that someone who so desperately wanted to be Prime Minister should seem so much happier after it.
The Government can carry on without the support of the Commons
Under the deal agreed by the coalition partners, this will be Britain's first 'fixed term' Parliament, meaning that we know the date of the next general election, in May 2015. To give the coalition added stability, Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg propose to legislate so that it would take a no confidence vote passed by a majority of at least 55-45 to force an early election. In 1979, James Callaghan lost a "no confidence" by just one vote and immediately dissolved Parliament; it did not occur to anyone that he could do anything else. As the implication of this sank in, senior Conservatives questioned whether it could be justified.
It takes greater loyalty to be a wife than a younger brother
The Labour Party must choose a new leader. In the old Labour cabinet there were two brothers, David and Ed Miliband, and a husband and wife, Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper. David wants to be Leader, and although Ed says "I love David; he's my best friend" he too wants to be leader, so they will fight it out. Some Labour MPs think that Ms Cooper would be a very good leader, but she is not going to get in her husband's way. "Now is not the right time for me," she said.
736 Lords are not enough
The red benches of the House of Lords will be filled to overflowing for the Queen's Speech next Tuesday, so you might think there are enough peers. But the coalition has only 258 supporters in the upper house to Labour's 211, out of a total of 736. Ministers complain that this is not enough, and since peers cannot be voted out, the only solution is to create more, over 100 more. However, they have promised to create an elected House of Lords, which will mean fixed-term peers.
Budgetary responsibility is coming our way (allegedly)
The coalition will have to make hard decisions to cut the deficit. They do not want the blame for lost jobs and slashed services. So the Chancellor, George Osborne, and his Liberal Democrat deputy, David Laws, are making sure that the public hears all about the financial mess they say they have inherited. Liam Byrne, the outgoing Chief Secretary of the Treasury, inadvertently strengthened their case by leaving a jokey message on Mr Laws's desk, saying: "I'm afraid to tell you there's no money left."
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