It really is "a new day, is it not" – as Tony Blair said after winning his first election. A fat, black cloud filled with Biblical plagues, satanic lightning, acid rain – the spirit of the previous government, I mean – has passed and suddenly the House of Commons is a completely different place. Where's that heavenly music coming from?
It's better attended. You could watch Education Questions on TV without embarrassment.
It's more interesting, too, with its new cast. When Nick Clegg stood up to do his Queen's Speech speech it was by no means clear he could carry his argument, or command the House. He flourished. That had its own drama. There has been a faint feeling that Nick isn't completely up to it. But he believes he is, and by the end of the session he made others believe he was. To see such self-confidence is impressive.
Chris Bryant finished a clever intervention on the historical rarity of five-year terms and Clegg barrelled him with a historical precedent, an observation on the Labour manifesto and the fact that we'd just emerged from a five-year term of the government just gone. That got the sweetest sound a speaker can hear in the House: the roar of approval that follows a successful retort.
The Deputy PM emerged from the rucks – after a kicking from angry ethnic parties – to finish with a shaft at Labour: they had come from government where they'd failed to make these changes and gone to opposition where they're opposing everything they tried to do. If we were playing football we'd say the game was the winner.
We had esprit, elan, a bit of éclat (he's very continental, Clegg) and a lack of missionary zeal. And maybe that's a coalition thing – government MPs are less seduced into the arrogance of office because they have to rely on the support of strangers.
Further interest comes from other sources. The first, their status as amateurs. The previous titans Brown and Blair were so professional they stuck to the briefing line. Lord, that became deadly. Here we see improvisation and ingenuity.
Second, they haven't thought things through. That's a good thing, it turns out. They have a profusion of ideas, and as Clegg said: they'd have to get back to us with the details. "We've only been in government three weeks!" It's a reasonable defence. And because the ideas are still a matter of debate, the House is involved in the working-out. MPs are participants; for a decade they've been observers. It's the other view of how things work. It's the "men not measures" theory. Much of what the Government does will depend on their character and reactions.
They have had the confidence to surrender the affectation of omnipotence and omniscience – and have abandoned the state's ambition to omnipresence. It's almost like a return to normality.Reuse content