Sunday, October 14, 2012

The reshuffle made the Lib Dems feel less like a party of government

We know Nick Clegg's ambition is for the Liberal Democrats to become "not ... the third party, but ... one of three parties of government".

Yet one of the reasons I was depressed by the summer's reshuffle (as I blogged when discussing John Kampfner's more optimistic take on it) is that we now seem further from fulfilling this ambition.

I share Nick Harvey's disappointment that we not longer have ministers at Defence or the Foreign Office. And I am not convinced by the posts we have taken instead.

Lynne Featherstone will do a good job at Overseas Development if she is allowed. But it may well be that moving Andrew Mitchell away from the department was a prelude to a Cameron decision to drop his pledge to spend 0.7 per cent of gross national income on overseas aid. There are no signs of it so far, but it would be in line with his strategy of moving right to please his back-benches and core voters.

And, much as I like David Heath, I fear that becoming the public face of the badger cull will do him or his party no favours.

But then Nick came out in favour of a cull as long ago as June 2008. As I blogged at the time, I was puzzled by the politics of this:
I do not know if culling badgers to prevent bovine TB is good science, but I am sure that it is bad politics. It may play well go down well in a few rural constituencies, but it will go down very badly in many more urban and suburban seats. Like Sheffield Hallam, for instance. 
This feels very much like a return to the 1970s, when the old Liberal Party's fortunes depended on clinging on to a handful of seats where the farming interest was strong. I thought we had all moved on since then.
Given that the Liberal Party I joined in the late seventies combined that pragmatic defence of local farming interests with high-minded statements about poverty, the changes in the reshuffle feel very much like a case of back to the future.

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