The Thick of It

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Friday, June 17, 2011

A poor week for all the parties

It is popular to remark that the Tories are undergoing a series of policy and political retreats. It is also popular to opine that this is a result of the Lib Dems restreating to their lefty safe territory after their local election wipe out.

Some of this is true. We wouldn't have had the NHS reform listening exercise or the changes to the programme if there wasn't something different about it. The real difference isn't in the policy changes that may or may not happen, I expect wholesale changes to the NHS to happen anyway.

What this all demonstrates is that the Tories feel politically weak. They are allowing both the Lib Dems and the risk of unpopularity with the electorate to force their hand. The Tories should feel stronger than they do because even if the Lib Dems want to flex their muscles, they too are week and facing oblivion.

The Tories know that the NHS is an historic weakness. People don't trust them with it so they can't take the risk losing whatever credibility they have with the health service. This also demonstrates political naiivity. Properly researched and planned before being announced, these changes could have met the needs of the health service in the first place and avoided talk of u-turns and retreats. This suggests that in the quest for taking power the coalition partners didn't work their way through all the detail. If the Lib Dems really were so opposed to all of this why didn't they say so when they had real power - at the coalition negoatiation phase.

This will be presented as a Lib Dem victory. The danger is that this will appeal to some of the Lib Dems lost voters but will further antagonise their coalition partners and masters, the Tories.

Nick Clegg needs to be very careful, while Cameron has more political strength than he realises. Ed Miliband should do everything to exploit a Clegg clinging on for life and a Cameron who is weak and reactiving the poltical environment rather than shaping it.

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