David Cameron’s been prattling on about how a future Tory majority government would put everyone earning under £50k into a food blender and then add it to the O-Level Home Economics syllabus. Or something like that.
No matter. There’ll never be another Tory government after this one. They were given one last chance by a weary and wary electorate two years ago. They blew it the moment they double dipped. People can tolerate nasty but smart. They can tolerate nice but stupid. They don’t hang around for nasty and stupid. Barring an economic miracle, this lot are finished.
So here we are. Another discredited government, spinning out dead-on-arrival policies in an attempt to seize almost hourly headlines to make it look like they’re doing … something. Because their politics graduate advisers tell them that this is what sways public opinion. As opposed to, y’know, not royally fucking things up for a change.
I’ve lived under five prime ministers. I can only really remember four. And it always ends like this.
John Major botched his way through rail privatisation while setting up cones hotlines and blathering on about back to basics. His ministers spun, plotted and shagged away behind his back. A backbench MP’s death in the throes of autoerotic asphyxiation helped whittle the Tories’ majority towards zero. And yet somehow it all dragged on until the last possible moment, when the landslide election of May 1997 put them out of our misery.
Blair’s slow demise was tortuous. The government of the country ground to a halt as he and Brown furiously spun and counter-spun, plotted and counter-plotted, in a desperate dick-swinging contest to see whether the prime minister would go at a time of his own choosing or his rival’s.
Brown’s final months saw more of the same plotting and spinning, and a succession of cheap policy initiatives and uncosted spending proposals as Britain’s economy tanked and the government broke apart without ever quite falling apart. Rivals old and new plotted and spun behind Brown’s back, though none of them had the bollocks to mount a proper challenge. The government staggered on until the last possible moment, the general election of 2010.
This is what happens when governments die. Like a star at the end of its life, they explode in a supernova of hot air and furious energy, destroying everything in their vicinity as rival factions brief against each other and the leadership makes up policies on the spot to try and give the impression of control. They consume enormous amounts of energy trying to maintain their own doomed existence, before finally collapsing into the white dwarf beneath, spinning dizzily out of power and into irrelevance (or ministerial memoirs, as irrelevance is sometimes known).
Government for its own sake. Government for its own survival. Government at all costs. Government for no other reason than that, for its participants, the alternative is oblivion.
This futile chaos is the dankest rot throughout the canker of British politics.
The death of a government – the long death, before the cathartic final gasp of an election campaign – is unmanaged and unmanageable. Animal spirits of personal ambition and rivalry run over. Policies are dreamt up for the sole purpose of keeping leaders in office or seeing off rivals, with no thought given to the human cost. Government grinds to a halt or spins out of control. Backbench rebellions blow up and neuter themselves within the blink of an eye. Hastily announced initiatives have the lifespan of a morbidly ill mayfly.
It’s not just Cameron. It’s all of them I can remember. A dying government has no checks and balances, no palliative care. It is not mercy killed. It thrashes wildly on its deathbed and dies in an apocalyptic fit, covered in the bedsores of a thousand policy press releases.
There has to be a better way.
Backbenchers are no use here. MPs in a collapsing government never act to trigger its downfall. They know an immediate election would wipe them out. They prefer to take a punt on time healing their wounds. It didn’t work for Major’s Tories; it did work for many of Brown’s Labour ranks. Plenty of Labour MPs who would have lost in 2008 held on in 2010. Good for them. Pity that Britain’s government failed to function for the two years in between.
A solution might exist in one of the Lib Dems’ abandoned brainwaves – recall elections for MPs. It’s a shame this policy never went through, and not just for the obvious reasons. In a situation where the prime minister is mortally wounded, the cabinet is at war and the backbenchers are clinging on for dear life, it would allow voters to force the issue when enough of them felt it needed to be forced. A series of recall elections, brought by local petitions, could whittle away a small majority and eradicate a slender one. It wouldn’t – and shouldn’t – happen all the time. But it could happen when it needed to. It would have happened, I’m sure, as Major’s government staggered on grimly through 1994 and 1995. And it sure would have beaten the hell out of rail privatisation.
But no. Instead we must endure up to three more years of government as snuff movie, unless and until the Eurozone, workfare, universal credit, or some other such timebomb blows the supernova apart, destroying the levers of government and leaving behind Britain’s untreated economy spinning like a white dwarf into irrelevance.