Comment: Clegg can seize the day and force Tories to act
WHAT does David Cameron not understand about a coalition agreement? Ending the constitutional anomaly that is the House of Lords is in the UK government’s agreement and is not open to any other interpretation than to do it.
On Monday night Cameron had to approach the Deputy Prime Minister and admit that he could not guarantee that his MPs would vote for reform. Non-existent leadership on a hot summer’s evening in London. What chance any new leadership from Cameron in September or whenever he dares try again with his back-benchers?
The one certainty of this week in politics is that Cameron’s attempt to modernise the Tory party has come to an end. Scottish Tory grandee Malcolm Rifkind was joined by 90 MPs in voting against an end to patronage at Westminster. Rifkind and his colleagues remind not just me but I suspect the nation what the Tories are truly like. They have not changed.
The old schoolboys and the millionaires made good on derivative trading in the City are back in charge. Cameron’s attempt to change the party is over. He hugged a husky in Norway to show he was green. He showed a caring face with young people from tough backgrounds. Above all he sought to neutralise the damaging view the British electorate had of the Tories that they are rampantly anti-European no matter the consequences for British jobs.
But the political dam has now burst. Cameron is now following his party, not leading it. Coalitions work because the principal architects get on and the parties agree the programme. When the Lib Dems and Labour agreed to reform local government elections in the 2003/07 Scottish Parliament as part of a coalition agreement, we did it. I took the bill through parliament. But I did so knowing that Jack McConnell wanted STV for local elections in Scotland. So even on rough days where I faced back-bench pressure, the First Minister for the government I served in made sure the Labour members voted for it. McConnell showed leadership. It was grown-up coalition politics.
A far cry from the events of Westminster this week. But out of this is a huge Nick Clegg opportunity. The junior party in a coalition must strike at moments like this. Clegg should spend from now until the party conference working out distinctive and imaginative Lib Dem policies that he wants to implement.
Then armed with a shopping list the Deputy Prime Minister should invite Cameron to accept it, because Dave is now the weakest leader in British politics.
l Tavish Scott is Liberal Democrat MSP for Shetland
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 6 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
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