Tuesday, 22 April 2014
Could this premiership be the least successful since the 1930s?
The news from the Scottish independence campaign keeps getting gradually worse for the 'No' side - and for the UK Government. In developments that seem to defy all logic (if only for outsiders who don't actually understand Scotland), a campaign that has seen blow after blow rain down on the 'Yes' side has actually seen their numbers rise - and rise. Uncertainty has mounted over European Union membership. Over the future currency an independent state can use. Big companies have said they're leaving if Scotland leaves the UK. Defence chiefs have come out against the idea. Even former Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been forced to stop recriminating in his tent, joining the 'Better Together' campaign to warn about future pension provision: in his own way and on his own terms, of course.
All to no avail. The numbers saying they'll vote 'yes' just keep climbing. There must now be a good chance that it'll happen.
We'll come to that again over the summer. But for now, consider what this will mean at Westminster. It's now generally accepted that this will mean the end of David Cameron (above) as Prime Minister, for a Conservative and Unionist leader will have presided the political cataclysm of the end of the United Kingdom itself. The impliciations certainly will not be confined north of Carlisle and Berwick. The status of Northern Ireland and Wales will undergo fundamental, if perhaps, gradual, changes over the years if Scotland does become an entirely separate state, and the end of Britain's nuclear deterrent may come as part of the deal much quicker than that. An insular English rump state is the likely outcome in the end, one which leaves the European Union and turns in on itself - a nightmarish outcome even to many (perhaps a majority of) Conservatives. No Conservative Prime Minister can lose Scotland and Trident. Perhaps no government could struggle on after that. The damage to the Coalition might be fatal, and the three most likely new Prime Ministers - William Hague, George Osborne and Theresa May - are hardly beacons of popularity likely to storm the country in a General Election.
So the Prime Minister's time in office will have ended in near-complete failure. What would the Government be able to point to as an achievement? University tuition fees, now likely to cost more than they saved? Well, no. Universal Credit and the Work Programme, two completely defunct 'policies' that cause most experts either to cry or laugh behind their hands as the Secretary of State sinks further and further into the mire? No again.
Deficit reduction? Yes, here there's been some solid progress - but only because the Chancellor completely ripped up his vaunted Plan A during 2012 and early 2013, returning to the speed of deficit reduction promised by Alistair Darling. Any wider programme of 'rebalancing' is stalled - mainly because private debt is being used to take the strain off the public finances in a situation where half of all Britons' wealth is tied up in the value of their houses. Don't expect that to change any time soon, under any circumstances. Free schools and academies? Maybe there's been some movement forward in Conservatives' own terms, but with increasing scrunity these schools are looking more and more like an expensive folly. Whoever thought that self-government, and direction by the Secretary of State, was likely to improve performance in and of itself?
For a Premiership that began with such high hopes - and for a Premier who had it within his grasp to be the new Stanley Baldwin, reshaping the political landscape for a generation - this would be a tragic and a pitiful end. He has 148 days to avert it.