Journalist: “Prime Minister [Cameron] you were once asked for a political joke and you said ‘Nick Clegg.’ Do you have any comment?”

Clegg: (to Cameron) “Did you really?”

Cameron: (to Clegg) “Yes I did I’m sorry”

Clegg: (miming walking off) “Well that’s it then…”


That was the scene towards the end of the first press conference between David Cameron and his new deputy PM Nick Clegg, in the Rose Garden behind Number 10 Downing Street. The new pair of leaders answered questions for around forty minutes, leaning heavily on the notion that this coalition of utter necessity was in fact the deliberate creation of a ‘new politics’.

According to Cameron the deal was “a sign of the strength and depth of the coalition and our sincere determination to work together constructively,” while Clegg claimed: “This is a new government and a new kind of government. A radical reforming government where it needs to be. And a source of reassurance and stability, too, at a time of great uncertainty in our country.”

But they may as well have been playing light classics on the ocarina for all it mattered. The only thing the pundits wanted to talk about was this new political ‘marriage’ ‘relationship’ ‘four day shag’ call it what you will. Everyone was checking them out as they would the old friend’s new squeeze brought to the dinner party.

“Cameron and Clegg seem totally at ease with each other. Their body language is very good,” Iain Dale quoth on his blog, while Guido Fawkes noted that:

“The Rose Garden of Downing Street rarely sees such amicable proceedings. In what could be described as a cross between a Richard Curtis film and the end of Blind Date when the couple come back for a chat, Cameron and Clegg laughed and joked their way through a rather painful show of affection. One day they will probably look back and regret such an OTT performance.”

While from Melbourne, Zoezora noted that the ending was:

“Cameron: You hang up first. Clegg: No, you hang up first! Cameron: No, you! Clegg OK. We’ll both hang up together…”

And The Guardian being the bloody Guardian, started:

“Here’s an interesting contribution on today’s political marriage. Author and psychotherapist Susie Orbach says we’re all going to have to adjust to….”

Argghhhhhhhh. Five bloody years.

Meanwhile, there was dissent from two dominant quarters – the old Tory right, and the Lib-Dem left. The former think, in the words of ConservativeHome blogger Tim Montgomerie that:

“Consequently, the Liberal Democrats will probably agree a deal with the Conservatives but their hearts aren’t in it. It’s hard to believe that they will be stable partners …”

While Andrew Roberts, historian and tool noted:

“The best thing to be hoped for is that the Liberals Democrats will behave loyally and modestly in the national interest …Sadly that is Cloudcuckoo Land, because the modern Liberal party is often to the left of Labour…”

While crazy Peter Hitchens said in the Mail:

“The reaction — immediately and in the long term — of properly conservative members and supporters of the Tory Party is the thing to watch. If they submit and allow themselves to be co-opted, then all immediate hope is gone and political and social conservatism is dead in this country. We can all go off and keep bees…”

Meanwhile, in the Lib-Demosphere, there were rumblings of dissent that may indicate a much larger exodus. According to Lib-Dem blogger Jane Watkinson:

“I can never support a LibDem/Tory coalition. I genuinely think this is the start of a serious destruction of the Lib Dems … we are going to be seriously squeezed in the next election. Labour will replace us in the north – we have already lost control of councils such as Sheffield – and the Tories will replace us in the south. We are going to be the soft face of a nasty government.”

Of course, this may not be an immediate problem if the coalition sticks to its plan of a fixed five year term. This will be introduced as legislation, rather than as mere agreement, with a rule stipulating that only a no confidence motion gaining support of 55% of the Commons can trigger an early poll. This is bold. It may well also be unconstitutional, but that discussion is still playing out.

That, in effect, is the Lib-Dem leadership’s own ‘triple-lock’ on the process, effectively strapping them in, and daring their membership to undermine them. Since much of that membership may depart, that may not be a problem – until an actual vote comes round. The Thirsk election will be an interesting thing to watch, as will the Scottish election in 2011 in this regard.

Also in the news today was David Miliband, who has officially thrown his hat into the ring for the Labour leadership – no surprise, since he is the short favourite, against Ed Balls and Miliband’s own brother, also an Ed.

But this process will take months to complete, and in the interim Harriet Harman remains as acting Labour leader, following in the proud tradition of Joan Kirner, Carmen Lawrence, Kristina Keneally, Anna Bligh etc etc, of getting the fag end of power.

Tough luck honey, but hey we never promised you a rose garden.

Peter Fray

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