When Gordon Brown was 'squatting' in Downing St. after the 2010 general election, like some paler, plumper Julius Caesar at the gates of Rome, David Cameron's very own Mark Antony, George Osborne, was busy blending a heady mix of the Liberal manifesto, champagne and a huge dose of cronyism, into a coalition smoothy. Except, the outcome hasn't actually been that smooth, has it?
From the start the coalition has suffered from a major problem with its composition, even before the seed of a policy has so much as germinated in the mind of some bespectacled technocrat in Whitehall. The top of government is simply too Tory heavy. The key cabinet posts - Chancellor (Osborne), Home Secretary (May), Foreign Secretary (Hague) - are all taken up by Tories, who also happen to be key Cameron allies. Similar is the story with the Education Secretary (Gove) and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Duncan-Smith).
During the coalition negotiations, the Liberal Democrats succeeded in getting their people in to almost every department of government, and to their credit, and the annoyance of traditional Tory supporters, they have been winning small and medium policy battles across government ever since. However, the problem is these efforts go largely unnoticed and Tory heads are taking credit for Lib Dem leg-work.
|You're surrounded: Mr. Cameron should change his top team|
At present, whilst senior Liberal Democrats and their policy boffins slap 'high-fives' and wax lyrical in their cliches about their policy victories, voters remain utterly oblivious to such inner-workings of government. The simple lesson for any minor coalition partner is to opt for 'depth' over 'breadth' with ministerial posts.
Nick Clegg is an anomaly, the role of Deputy Prime Minister may seem grand, but in truth he occupies a redundant and almost powerless office, and with his credibility pitifully low, he is one Liberal Democrat the country needs to see less of, not more.
House of Lords reform, Mr. Clegg's marquee legislation, and the change that he feels will see him looked favourably upon in the history books, is ill-thought through, will almost certainly be talked-out by the Commons, and the speech delivered by Mr. Clegg to champion the change was weak and strikingly naive for a self-confessed 'political obsessive'.
Furthermore, it is a subject that the public find mind-boggling, exhausting and plain boring. Should the legislation fail, which it is doomed to do, Mr. Clegg would be left critically damaged, without a purpose and vulnerable to a rival challenge. One would wonder how hard he would resist after an exhausting and embarrassing time in government.
As much as the endless re-shuffles of the Blair years are to be discouraged, the present government is tired, disliked and the deck is in need of a slight shuffle if it is to operate more effectively.
Furthermore, if Mr. Cameron is to appease the Liberal Democrats fears of a wipe-out at the next general election, which will only intensify as the election grows closer, he must lift the Liberal Democrats out of their consistent single figure opinion poll ratings, as much as it may feel counter-productive to help improve the fortunes of a rival party. The simplest way to do this is to promote several Liberal Democrats to key cabinet positions.
Vince Cable is one obvious contender, who opts to remain largely silent in the coalition at present, as is the impressive Tim Farron, who is so disappointingly wasted in the anonymous role as President of the Liberal Democrats. There is some disquiet on the Tory backbenches regarding George Osborne's position as Chancellor but Mr. Cameron will not be so bold as to remove his friend and ally to make way for Mr. Cable. Candidates for the chop are more likely to include the Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke or perhaps Home Secretary Theresa May.
Mr. Cameron has though, been determined to avoid re-shuffles thus far during his time in office and his position is unlikely to change. Sadly, the government is therefore doomed to 'succeed' in its current form.
With the aid of the ludicrous Fixed-term Parliaments Act of 2011, the government can rest easy in the knowledge that it could limp on until 2015 regardless. David Cameron will still be leader of the Conservative Party, Nick Clegg will still 'lead' the Liberals in his own uniquely hopeless style, and otherwise sensible people will, almost inconceivably, return hundreds of the most unimpressive individuals to parliament on election day 2015.
It would be hopelessly optimistic to think these slavishly obedient MPs will force Mr. Cameron's hand and cause enough trouble to make a re-shuffle inevitable.
Small wonder Mr. Cameron has been keeping in contact with Mr. Blair lately. I wrote recently how there seemed to be a lack of 'spin' or 'image management' on part of the Tories, and how they're convinced their problem is with 'communicating with the public'. Here lies the problem, politics is just a game to governments these days, about tactics, maneuvering the opposition and conning the public. Perish the thought that the problem might just be their disastrous policies.