08:45 Tuesday 28th December 2010 Today Programme BBC Radio 4
James Naughtie has a quick chat with two journalists from the Sun and the Daily Telegraph on the future of the Coalition.
JAMES NAUGHTIE: We’re going to talk about the Government and where it goes from here. The Coalition, as we know, could certainly have done without the attention of the undercover Daily Telegraph reporters who posed as “interested constituents” and lured a string of Liberal Democrat Ministers, notably Vince Cable, into indiscretions of various sorts. But what’s the consequence? Some Conservatives have been complaining, as we’ve reported, that if they’d been Tory Ministers, they would have been out of the door in a flash. They may well be right. But what does the reaction of David Cameron and Nick Clegg say about their coalition? Is it stronger, or weaker as a result of all this, and where will its biggest political challenges come from? Matthew d’Ancona the Sunday Telegraph political columnist is in the radio car, and we’re also joined by Trevor Kavanagh, Associate Editor of the Sun. Matthew, what are your reflections on the response to the brouhaha of the last ten days or so?
MATTHEW d’ANCONA: Well I suppose the first thing to say is that the mere fact of the Coalition’s continued existence at the end of the year is quite remarkable. The fact that it exists at all is something to reflect upon. But it ends the year in a rather embarassing fashion I think. My own view is that it would have been an important statement by Cameron to have sacked Vince Cable, because it is I think true to say that had a senior Conservative Minister been found to have said the same things as Cable did, he would have been sacked, and rightly so. So It was a slightly ignominous way to end the year, and two thousand and eleven is going to be harder than two thousand and ten.
JAMES NAUGHTIE: But if the cement that holds it together survived that, does it tell us that it’s likely to survive similar things in the future?
MATTHEW d’ANCONA: Yes I think that the Coalition is actually impressively sturdy, and it would be all the more robust if it wasn’t just dependent upon certain key individuals. At the moment it’s really an oligarchy of if you like irreplaceables, of whom Cameron and Clegg clearly regard Cable as one. The next phase has got to be for the Coalition to become an institution, a machine in its own right, which isn’t just dependent on the goodwill of a few founding fathers.
JAMES NAUGHTIE: Do you agree with that, Trevor Kavanagh?
TREVOR KAVANAGH: Well I do. The interesting thing about the events of the last few days is that I think the Coalition has been strengthened on one side, the LibDem side, by the events, in other words that they’ve embarassed themselves by speaking out in the way they have, and will be reluctant to do the same again. So they’ll be very cautious about triggering any sort of split within the Coalition. I think the fact (is) that Vince Cable has embarassed himself enormously, and should resign to display at least some sort of integrity, rather than wait to be sacked. As for the other side of the Coalition, the Tories, I think it’s actually exacerbated what divisions existed beforehand, because it has shown .. (INTERRUPTED)
JAMES NAUGHTIE: It’s often said, isn’t it, that the unhappiest group of people in the House of Commons, I mean this is a generalisation, are those on what we might call the social right of the Conservative Party, who feel as if their Government has been taken away from them,.
TREVOR KAVANAGH: Yes. A very large number of people who would have liked to have been in government are sitting on the back benches, watching a party which never seemed to have any prayer of being in government, a third of their party are in ministerial positions, ..
JAMES NAUGHTIE: Yes.
TREVOR KAVANAGH: .. so there’s a lot of antagonism on that.
JAMES NAUGHTIE: And where do you think, briefly, Trevor, that the fault line will show, on that front?
TREVOR KAVANAGH: Well it won’t be on the economy.
JAMES NAUGHTIE: No.
TREVOR KAVANAGH: I think that’s the one thing that will bind the two sides together. They’re in it together. The areas that I think will come up mostly are going to be on areas of crime fighting, prison reform, but more than anything else Europe, which of course is an issue that has divided the Tories in the past, and I think could do so again, and very soon. Because there’s a debate coming up in Parliament on the question of British sovereignty, and that’s almost on day two of the new Parliament.
JAMES NAUGHTIE: Well, we shall see if you’re both right on that. Trevor Kavanagh from the Sun, Matthew d’Ancona from The Sunday Telegraph.