Reading the Coalition

Quite a lot of the stuff that I read that critiques the government comes from a centre-left perspective and paints it as Tory led and highly radical.  Here are a couple of examples.

Andrew Rawnsley:

I am increasingly struck by the strange similarities between the regime of Chairman Mao and that of Chairman Cameron.

Some of the coalition’s senior figures are conscious of this; some of them are even proud to draw the parallels between themselves and the author of TheLittle Red Book. In recent weeks, I have heard one important figure in the government talk of unleashing a “cultural revolution” in the public services and another hailing devolution of power away from the centre using Mao’s old slogan: “Let a thousand flowers bloom.”

Paul Corrigan:

The rhetoric from May to December was clear. The problem was the “top down” NHS bosses who were to be swept away over the next few years and replaced with empowered clinical commissioners and an economically regulated market place.

It’s an analysis that fits our conception of what this government is; a fire first ask questions later, mad axeman which is hoping that a period of ‘creative destruction’ will remake society.

I think that this is also a view that is shared by some members of the government – though perhaps not the mad axeman bit.  After all they’re the ones talking about cultural revolution and saying that everything must change by 2015.

But it’s not the only view of what they are, and it seems to me that that sets some challenges for its opponents.

I think we ought to notice what might be called a traditionalist conservative view being articulated which provides a very different view of what the government is.

If you look this come not only in today’s Eurosceptic revolt, but also around issues like education, where the Telegraph recently gave voice to critics of the government’s policy on exclusion backed by a critical editorial:

The Government has pledged to give teachers more powers to search pupils, restrain violent children, impose detentions without giving 24 hours’ warning and make decisions without having them overturned. But this will be pointless if the most troublesome pupils continue to make it impossible for teachers to give other children the education they deserve.

There have been similar criticisms of some of the proposals to reduce the use of prisons to punish those convicted of crime, and the general sense of cosiness between the Cameroons and the Orange Book Lib Dems.

Both views seem to me to have some validity, and make opposition more tricky.  Being able to paint your opponents in primary colours is pretty important and if they don’t fit then your attacks are knocked away more easily.  It’s part of the reason the Tories had so many difficulties with Blair and New Labour, paint him as a Euro-federalist big state socialist and he’d point to all the things that made that view look a bit daft.

The other issue to consider is what this alternative pressure does to the shape of the government programme.  Again looking back to the Blair years the failure of the Left to apply any reasonable pressure on his government meant that there was too much appeasement of the Daily Mail agenda.

Today it’s clear that the disillusioned traditionalist wing of the conservative alliance isn’t going to play quietly in the hope of that the crumbs from the table will fall their way.

I don’t know what the answer might be (at times this looks like a very solid government with an (awful) agenda that will take them at least to the next election if not beyond, and then the veil is lifted and the tensions are all on show) but we need to be sure that we understand and take account of this alternative view of the government.

About Andrew Brown

I live in Lewisham, South East London, and spent 9 years as a Labour councillor in the borough between 1997 and 2006.
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