The combination of complacency and incompetence that seems to have afflicted the Conservative Party is a wonder to behold. Janet Daley wrote at the weekend of her frustration at David Cameron saying he is ‘relaxed’ about the situation. She is right that welfare, education and the criminal justice system are in need of reform, although I am not convinced this government is going about it in the right way or with the right personnel. The competence factor is becoming a huge issue for this government, across individual departments, in the management of the parliamentary party and the wider membership (swivel-eyed or staring straight into the headlights).
The Labour Party managers who had to help dig Cameron out of a hole of his own making were handed a very practical insight into the chaos at the heart of the Coalition this week.
Cameron often says he is relaxed about things: unpaid work experience for friends and family, for instance. As Andrew Rawnsley pointed out, he probably isn’t and certainly shouldn’t be. People vey rarely have great insight into their own personality. You can always guarantee that someone who ‘always tells it to you straight’ will be the first to stab you in the back. Why would anyone who is genuinely relaxed need to tell you they were? (The alternative is that there is someone in the Downing Street media operation who has a verbal reflex for using the word ‘relaxed’ on behalf of the Prime Minister whenever he is in trouble.)
The question begins to arise: when is a government not a government? The Coalition is fragmenting. But political parties are coalitions too and the Conservative leadership can’t afford the right of the party to break away. The emergence of UKIP is the dream scenario for the Labour Party because Eurosceptic Tories concerned about the collapse of ‘traditional’ values finally have somewhere to go.
Cameron has done a remarkable, enlightened thing by introducing gay marriage. But he has also allowed the Labour Party to take credit for getting his bill through parliament. What a mess this all is. The smell of defeat now hangs over the Conservative Party. Although Ed Miliband has yet to convince, David Cameron is right on the edge of that tipping point political leaders reach when they are no longer electable. He is on the brink of ridicule.