Last night I did the Stephen Nolan show again at midnight on BBC Radio Five Live. Love the show — but I hate getting to bed at two in the morning! I was on with David Banks again, former Mirror editor. He’s a hard-bitten leftie, so I’m slightly embarrassed to find that we frequently agree.
It was of course the papers review, and for once we got a whole lot of hard politics and not too much human interest stuff (although the previous hour had hosted a very moving debate on the Liverpool Care Pathway, and the experiences of listeners). There really was no getting away from politics in the headlines, and I guess that David Cameron (and many Conservatives) are having a rather bilious Sunday morning.
The Sunday Times had “Tory alarm over No 10 meltdown”. The Observer: “Tory Grandee in assault on ‘this dog of a government’” — the Norman Tebbit story. The Mail: “Cameron says Time to Mug a hoodie” — the PM’s desperate attempt to get back onto the front foot with a populist dog-whistle issue. He says his new policy is “tough but intelligent”, which you may regard as another U-turn. And the Indie has “How new Tory MPs knifed Mitchell”. Well done those guys. There’s also a lot of play for the “George Osborne and the First Class Ticket” story, including an “exposé” in the Sunday Telegraph of the widespread use of first class travel by MPs. I personally don’t have a problem with the Chancellor of the Exchequer travelling first class — provided he pays for a first-class ticket.
This follows on from Saturday’s devastating Mail headline “Who do they think they are?” over a photo of three Tory MPs — Mitchell swearing at police, Osborne using a second-class ticket in first class, and my own MP Andrew Robathan, who reportedly called for Army veterans concerned about defence cuts to be removed from the Palace of Westminster.
Following the “omnishambles” of the summer, with one disaster following hard on the heels of another, these gaffes are appalling for both the government and the Tory party, and raise real questions as to how long the Coalition can last. Clearly the government has lost the confidence of the people, and (to paraphrase Brecht) maybe it’s time for the people to dissolve the government, and to appoint a new one.
I feel genuinely sorry for Conservative activists (remember I was one for years) who raised funds and worked their socks off to get Conservatives elected, and now see a Conservative-led government descending into farce. All I can suggest is that now that all three of the old parties have been discredited one way or another, perhaps it’s time to look for a new party with common-sense policies. As I did.
Many people have been asking if Cameron is really a Conservative. He’s answered that in recent weeks. His intervention in the energy pricing debate was not only capricious and unprofessional. It was un-conservative. They tried state price control in the Soviet Union. It resulted in shortages, bread queues, poverty, and a flourishing black market. Yet not content with price fixing in energy, he went straight on to intervene in the retail wine business, proposing to ban six-bottle offers.
Cameron simply doesn’t understand markets. He imagines he can solve problems by proposing initiatives. But it doesn’t work like that. Utility companies forced to offer the cheapest tariff will simply raise their lowest prices. Supermarkets, no longer able to offer six-bottle deals, will offer single-bottle deals — which will make wine more, not less, accessible to the casual binge drinker. But let me finish at least with a piece of good news. The Sunday Times reports that “the new policy of minimum prices for alcohol has been shelved, because of fears of mistakes in the detail”. Maybe they’re learning. And let’s hope that the ban on six-bottle deals goes into the long grass alongside minimum pricing.