Clegg Is Playing A Very Risky Game. Well.

Lets look back over the events of today:

– Talks with the Conservatives were going along OK, but some of their backbenchers were grumbling, and our party was evidently very iffy about signing up to anything which achieved no advance on electoral reform. There had been reports of some meetings going on between ourselves and the Labour party.

– Our own meeting of the parliamentary party made it clear to the negotiating team that they weren’t very happy with the offers on the table so far.

-David Laws gave a rather odd statement, in which he seemed not to say a whole lot.

-The BBC reported that there was some suggestion 10 Downing Street might be making a statement, and it was, somewhat bizarrely, suggested that whether they did or not depended on a careful analysis of what David Laws said.

-A statement was indeed forthcoming, with Gordon Brown announcing an opening of negotiations with Nick Clegg. Curiously enough, it was timed just before David Cameron was known to be meeting with his shadow cabinet and then later his backbenchers.

-Nick Clegg makes a statement, quite soon afterwards, confirming this.

-What had looked like a tricky meeting for David Cameron comes out with a result that he will concede a referendum on PR, which, presumably, a few hours ago was not even part of what he was going to try to sell to his MPs.

So, the conspiracy-theorist in me suspects that Labour and Clegg have managed to time an announcement at about the right time to focus the minds of the Conservatives when they were meeting, and screw a bit more out of them.

Good. It might seem cynical of us, but since we have such a crappy deal under an electoral system which is stacked against us, I think we can be forgiven for levering absolutely anything we can from a hung parliament when one comes along. We do, however, have to think about the perceptions of this. As Jennie points out, people will now assume we’re ditching talks with the Tories unless something comes forward pretty soon.

The game Clegg has been playing is striking a fine balance between screwing as much out of Cameron as he possibly can, and being seen to act in his own interest and not that of the country. I think he has strung this out about as long as he can afford to if he doesn’t want to consign the party to such unpopularity it might well not recover from it. I don’t intend that as a criticism, by the way; a hung parliament is such an unusual opportunity for us that he would have been wrong not to give the negotiations all he can.

The question is, has he now got something on the table that’s worth the headache? Lets assume, as most of the political world does, that a Lab-Lib deal is not really a viable option, for the simple reason that the seats don’t stack up. What this leaves us with is the conclusion that Clegg has to go with the Conservatives sooner or later. In today’s announcement from Brown, he has managed to flush out a better deal than was on the table before. He has to take this or leave it now, and if he leaves it, we remain out of power, with no referendum on AV, and minimal influence over Conservative policy.

But he hasn’t got PR, so has he got enough?

It’s a hard question, but I think, at the end of the day, that if he continues to play games with this tomorrow, we will go past the point where that balance between getting a good deal and being seen to pursue self-interest flips, and he starts to do massive damage to the party. I’m sure Nick knows this. So, if he carries on doing as well as I think he’s done so far, I predict that tomorrow will see the sealing of a deal for the only viable coalition on the table, the newly upgraded Con-LabLib coalition deal. If so, I would support it. Of course I want STV, but having got this far in the hung parliament talks we would be set back at the next general election, with little to show for it, if we don’t take it.

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Tory Smears On PR

…or, Why We Have To Talk Specifics.

A few people, eg. Costigan Quist, Mark Thomson and Neil Stockley, have been arguing for a consensual, compromising stance, most likely involving accepting the Jenkins Commission suggestion of AV+ instead of our preferred solution of STV. Jennie Rigg and Alex Foster offer a more divisive approach, and I would like to add my voice to theirs. Let me tell you why.

It has become obvious why being vague about what we are supporting will not work over the last week. The Tories, opposed as they are to the principle that every person’s vote should count for something, have been lining up to smear the movement that has been picking up momentum over the last week. There are three specific lines that I would like to respond to.

1. PR takes power away from people and vests it in party hierarchies.

A lie.

This is an accusation which is quite justly levelled at a certain subset of PR systems: closed party list systems, such as the one that is used for the Euro elections in the UK. The parties choose the order of the list, and the top candidate is virtually guaranteed to be elected, as long as they’re standing for a vaguely well supported party. Or, to put it another way, a safe seat! One that is even more in the gift of party patronage than safe seats at the moment! Similarly, since AV+ requires there to be top-up lists, the same problem applies to Alan Johnson’s favoured solution. Not only that, but AV+ doesn’t even get rid of safe seats on a constituency level. As Jennie quite rightly points out, safe seats are a pretty key feature of what we want to get rid of. It is the link from the immediate crisis to this specific reform, made off the back of Mark’s excellent analysis (with a little help from yours truly).

STV, on the other hand, puts as much power into the hands of the people as possible. In effect, it rolls the Tories’ proposed open primaries and the general election into one, and throws in proportionality as a bit of a bonus. David Cameron is being straight-forwardly deceptive in making the argument he made today. He knows he is, he knows what we favour (or at least, he ought to), and, as Millennium argues, if this electoral reform thing gets rolling, then he would be an absolute hypocrite not to get on board with any Lib Dem efforts to favour STV, not AV+.

2. The Lib Dems just want PR because they want to always be in government.

A ridiculous line, and one which pre-supposes a parliament which looks more or less like the one we have now after a reform designed specifically to ensure that it does not. In making this claim, the Tories (or anyone else) are assuming that under the new system, the Lib Dems are still the only other main party in the Commons after the Tories and Labour. Why? It seems to me pretty likely that we could see, at the very least, UKIP and Green MPs under most systems of PR, certainly including the ones that we favour. Assuming Scotland remained part of the UK, you’d also likely have a sizeable nationalist contingent. Plenty of people to form a coalition with, even if the few BNP members elected were (rightly) so toxic that nobody wanted to form a coalition of any sort with them.

Ironically, the one system likely to produce the outcome being suggested by this talking point is the one supported by Alan Johnson, AV+. As Lewis Baston noted in a report on AV (pdf) for the Electoral Reform Society,

…life under AV is fairly comfortable for Liberal Democrats. All their incumbent MPs are likely to find their seats safer than under FPTP, and change to proportionality would destabilise this comfortable position. AV also suits Lib Dem campaigning techniques quite well, and the party could reasonably look forward to faster electoral progress than under FPTP in its target constituencies because acquiring second preferences is easier than acquiring tactical votes.

It’s easy enough to see how this works: for the most part, it’s reasonable to assume that both Tory and Labour voters would put the Lib Dems preferentially higher than Labour or the Tories, respectively. In even vaguely close seats, this would give us a real advantage. It also favours centre parties, and does very little to represent smaller, more niche parties like the Greens or UKIP. If AV (or even AV+) was the system we were advocating, then there would be a lot of truth in the criticism that the Lib Dems just wanted to be in power all the time. As Baston remarked,

It would be understandable if the party settled for AV for a – perhaps lengthy – ‘transitional period’ or ‘national conversation’ rather than move quickly into a more thoroughgoing electoral reform.

It would indeed, and it is to the party’s credit that it has continued to favour STV and not AV, when, as Jennie mentioned,

thanks to Chris Rennard, our party is actually best geared up to fighting FPTP elections, and would likely LOSE seats if STV came in.

To see this point, just imagine how many of our campaigning techniques (eg. bar charts) would translate to a proper proportional system like STV. But anyway, the main point is, we should not be the only significant presence after the main two parties under STV (and that’s assuming that none of the existing main parties undergo splits or rapid transformations under the new system, which is a game for another time..).

3. PR results in chaos and deals made in smoke-filled rooms.

OK, this one is a bit more difficult, because basically it’s true, coalitions must be formed under PR systems, more or less whatever you do. You can still give a government a solid mandate, by having an election for the Prime Minister separately, and tasking them with forming a government, but yes, there will either be a search for coalition partners, or a minority government will have to reach across the aisle for support on individual planks of its programme.

But look at it this way. Politics, the art of the possible, is about coalitions of interests. Always has been, always will be. New Labour is not a natural, cohesive grouping of people; died in the wool trade unionists would rather not be in a party with Peter Mandelson if they could help it. Nor, for that matter, would some of the more foaming eurosceptic types in the Tory party want to be in a party with Ken Clarke. Sometimes, the economic/social liberal distinction rears its head in our own fair party. The point is, FPTP doesn’t eliminate coalitions, not really; it just makes people form coalitions before running for election, not after. The political parties are the coalitions, and often the wheelings and dealings are much more murky than they might be under PR. The oft-quoted example is the scrap between Blairites and Brownites which characterised much of the current Labour government’s term. How open and transparent was the process which led to most of the policy ennacted over the last ten years?

Under PR, the negotiations are much more open, in that at least we know what each party wants, the news can report on the negotiations (most of the information would likely be leaked from somewhere), and we can see what comes out the other end and draw our own conclusions about what went on. If we don’t like the result, crucially, we can vote next time to change the balance of power within that coalition, without kicking that coalition out of power. Under the coalition that was New Labour, we had no such option. STV, uniquely, even lets you do this within parties, by favouring, say, proper Old Labour types over Blue Labour candidates. Under FPTP, change in parties often takes a very long time, and its direction is completely uncontrollable by the electorate.

So, three lazy lines against PR, and three responses. But what do we notice about each of the responses? Crucially, in order to defend the principle of electoral reform from the self-interested, complacent opposition of the Tories, we are going to have to be specific about which system we are talking about. And if we don’t speak up for STV now, we are going to be lumbered with a system which is much more open to criticism from those who oppose any form of PR.

It’s all very well saying the Tories have nothing to do with it, but at some point, if we want this to go forward, we are going to have to make an argument to the people and win a referendum on the matter. The Labour grassroots don’t much care for electoral reform, so campaigning on the ground for reform is going to fall largely to us. It is perfectly reasonable to throw everything we can at making sure we can fight on our own terms, for the system we actually believe in.

PMQs: Does Brown Have A Point?

Watching PMQs today, you would have had to be almost comatose not to have picked up on Gordon Brown’s main point of rebuttal against the Tories: that they weren’t talking about the issues. Of course, it’s a convenient way for him not to answer awkward questions about his own leadership, but it has to be said, the man has a point. PMQs today had what seemed like more than its fair share of throughly pathetic, Westminster-village questions.

The Tory questions today included (and I paraphrase, here, but you get the idea):

  • Cameron: You’re shit, and you know you are.
  • Bullying in the Workplace! Arf!
  • Look, an online petition for you to resign!
  • How are you doing on the whole setting out your vision thing?
  • Will Hazel Blears’s article be dealt with in “the usual way”? Titter.

But it certainly wasn’t all coming from the Tories. Labour MPs are often to be found offering fuckwittedly craven softballs to the leader, on the glorious achievements of Her Majesty’s Government. Today’s included:

  • Rother Valley’s unemployment is not yet as bad as it was in 1997. So no worries, keep up the good work!
  • Tell me all about your plans to exclude tips from the minimum wage.
  • Let me tell you about my local football team, Brighton & Hove. They wunned at the weekend, you know…
  • Swindon borough council is run by evil Tories. Would you like to join me in denouncing them?
  • Please can you confirm that the £300m available for higher education building projects might include the plan in Blackpool to build, well, a higher education building? Just to clarify.
  • Please will you give a meaningless, open ended commitment to do whatever you can to save jobs at General Motors factories?
  • Please agree with me when I say that the government is brilliant, and creating 1000 jobs in Gloucester docks.
  • Would you care to join me in attacking the Tories, who might cut police in Greater Manchester. ps. We’re building some new stuff in Bury, wooo!

There were, to be fair, some non-pathetic questions from the two biggest parties. From the Tories, we had:

  • Will the Gurkhas vote be binding?
  • Compensating the fund for Christie hospital for losses in Icelandic banks.

And Labour MPs offered:

  • Will you secure a report to the house on the government’s actions to tackle child trafficking?
  • Will you meet with me to discuss illegal gangmasters in the construction industry?
  • What’s going on with the trouble at Stafford hospital?

And then we have today’s Lib Dem questions. Nick Clegg tackled Gordon on his big speech about children and education, in a similar manner to Cameron, only Nick had a point about an actual thing. Here’s the run-down of our questions:

  • Clegg: Education and young people.
  • Low returns on savings offered by bailed out banks.

That was it for us. Today also saw the DUP doing some special pleading for Northern Ireland, and Plaid Cymru asking about Trident.

So after all that, what conclusions can we draw? Which parties have made a good use of the opportunities that PMQs present? Here’s a little summary:

Labour: 11 questions, ~3 of them with much substance to them.
Conservatives: 12 questions (6 from Cameron), 2 of them with much substance to them.
Lib Dem: 3 questions (2 from Clegg), 3 of them with much substance to them.

That’s a success rate of

Lab: 27%
Con: 17%
Lib: 100%

I know the Lib Dems have an easy time under this kind of metric, because we don’t really have the number of questions to piss some of them away taking the piss. But really, can we not expect any better than that from the other parties? If Gordon Brown is serious about wanting better questions from the Tories, he could start by planting some slightly less pathetic questions for himself from his own side.

A Good Day for Democracy: Government Loses Gurkha Vote

Today’s big political news has just broken – that the government has been defeated in the vote for the first of two Lib Dem motions, which make up our opposition day debate. The motion called for an equal right of residence to be offered to all Gurkhas, rather than the unfair cut-off for those whose service ended pre-1997 which the government was doing all it could to preserve. I should firstly say a big congratulations to Chris Huhne, who opened the debate powerfully, and fended off a number of pathetically twatty interventions from the Labour benches with ease.

What is amazing about this is not the vote itself, so much as the fact that the government allowed itself to lose. Governments really don’t like to lose votes. Even on harmless things like David Heath’s Private Members’ Bill on Fuel Poverty, they would rather defeat good ideas, and then implement them later, perhaps in watered down form, as part of a wider piece of legislation. It completely undermines the way parliament and our democracy is supposed to work, but there you are.

So it was that before the debate, on the Daily Politics PMQs coverage, Nick Robinson sagely told us that it wasn’t a government defeat we should be watching for, but how much the government had to give away in order to keep its backbenchers on side. Look out, he advised us, for little slips of paper being passed to the minister towards the end of the debate if the whips don’t think they can win the vote as things stand, thus prompting further concessions.

As it happens, though, the Labour party is in such a state of complete incompetence/powerlessness that its whips clearly weren’t able to guage support sufficiently accurately. Perhaps they simply don’t have enough leverage over backbenchers who all expect to be out of a job soon anyway. In any case, the government, in not announcing a U-turn or something, has allowed itself to be humiliated. Not only that, but on an issue that has attracted an awful lot of public anger; Andrew Neil and Anita Anand said on today’s Daily Politics that they’d never seen such a large and unanimous email response on a subject before.

The other notable thing about this is the photo opportunity that it produced outside the House of Commons, where protesters were making their own opinions on the subject clear this afternoon. There, sandwiching Joanna Lumley, admittedly, were Nick Clegg and David Cameron, side by side. Some will inevitably read a lot, probably too much, into the body language of the two, and whether they looked to be getting on well. Personally, I think they were both genuinely happy to see the typical workings of parliament, where the government simply stifles the ability of MPs to act as the voice of the nation on such straightforward issues as this, subverted for once.

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David Cameron’s Homophobic New Friends

Paul Waugh at the Evening Standard has pointed out that the parties that the Tories are proposing to ally themselves with in the European Parliament include the Polish Law and Justice Party. He points out that one of the party’s MPs made the pretty interesting remark: “Obama is an approaching catastrophe. This marks the end of white man’s civilisation.”

Their founder is also a climate change denier, quoted as saying that “Global warming is a false myth and every serious person and scientist says so.”

A quick scout round the internets produces some more interesting information. The co-founder and current chair of the party, Jarosław Kaczyński, has, for instance, been quoted as saying that “The affirmation of homosexuality will lead to the downfall of civilization.” This, just to be cheap for a second, from a man who is unmarried and lives with his mother.

Meanwhile, the Tories have been hiding behind Kaczynski’s twin brother Lech, who is the current President of Poland, pointing out that he has disowned the remarks made by one of their MPs about Obama.

Maybe, but the charge of a homophobic party is rather less easily shrugged off. Lech Kaczyński himself, on a state visit to Ireland, was quoted as saying that the human race “would disappear if homosexuality was freely promoted”. In march last year he broadcast a video of a gay American couple’s wedding on Polish national television, to warn the nation that supporting the Lisbon Treaty, and therefore the EU Charter of Human Rights, would mean that same-sex marriage could come to Poland.

Make no mistake, this party has made homophobia a centrepiece of its identity.

If the Tories think it’s unfair that people are mocking them for leaving the EPP Group in favour of joining forces with Europe’s nutters, they’ve got some explaining to do.

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Cameron Tries To "Nudge" His Way Out Of Recession

The Tories have announced a plan today to give companies National Insurance breaks on employing people who have been unemployed for over 3 months. Detail on their website, but the gist is this:

It costs the government £8100 per annum in benefits payments and lost income tax receipts to support an unemployed person. So their proposal is as follows:

Private sector employers, who hire someone who has been claiming unemployment benefits for more than three months (13 weeks) and who has not previously worked for that company in the previous year, would receive a credit against Employers National Insurance Contributions. The credit would be worth £2,500 for full time jobs of 30 hours a week or more, or half that amount for part time work of 16 hours a week or more. It would be phased out beyond the higher rate tax threshold so that only basic rate taxpayers would be eligible for the full amount.
• To prevent companies making people redundant in order to replace them and claim the tax cut, the payment would only be available to companies that had made no redundancies in the previous three months, or for three months after claiming the credit.
• To limit the amount given in tax cuts to companies who are already growing rapidly, the tax cut would be limited to a maximum of 20 per cent of the workforce of any one company.
• The credit would be available for one year after the employee starts their new job.

David Cameron doesn’t believe you can borrow your way out of a recession, it seems. Instead, he seems to intend to Nudge his way out of one. It’s a pity, then, that in the words of Nick Clegg, “Cameron has drawn the fly on the floor”. This doesn’t help anyone who is already in a job. It doesn’t help businesses who are struggling to keep employing the people they already employ. It doesn’t seem likely to boost consumer spending all that much. It doesn’t even seem likely to genuinely get all that many people back into employment. All it really does is tip the scales in favour of people who have been unemployed for over 3 months.

Let’s look at this from the point of view of the people it’s aimed at: employers (and note, in passing, that the last two Tory tax announcements – VAT delay, and now this – have been aimed at helping business, not people in the most direct sense).

To employ someone on minimum wage full time costs them about £11,000 (depends what hours they’re on, so no point being too precise here). £5682 of that is above the Earnings Threshold, so National Insurance is paid on it, to the tune of 12.8%, or £727. So overall it costs the employer £11,727 to employ someone on the minimum wage. The Tory credit reduces that to £9227. Essentially, the Tories want to reduce the price of employing someone on minimum wage by 21%.

The significance of these credits only gets lower the higher the wage you’re talking about. Someone on £20,000 costs their employer £21,891 to employ. That becomes £19,391, a cut of 11%. Or if you’re on £30,000, it costs your employer £33,171, becoming £30,671, a cut of 8%. Much beyond that, the credits stop under the plan in question. So the jobs this is likely to have most impact on is those at the bottom end of the pay scale.

Fair enough. But now ask yourself this: Are you, a struggling company in the middle of a recession, going to set yourself back £9227 a year to employ someone who is currently unemployed out of the goodness of your own heart? I suggest that the answer is no. I suggest that most of the companies who are going to be taking people on in the next few years are the ones who had a pretty good chance of employing some extra people anyway: businesses who are just filling gaps left by employees leaving, or who are recruiting people they would have needed anyway. The Tories themselves admit that this would be true to some extent; the £2500 figure is based on an estimate that only ~31% of the jobs that would be created under this scheme wouldn’t have been created anyway. I suspect it would be rather less than that, depending on how bad the recession gets.

Is it too cynical of me to suspect that this isn’t really a Tory prescription for the recession at all? I reckon what this is is a bit of policy they had on the back burner as a remedy for long-term unemployment, which has been tweaked a bit and packed up in a shiny new box that says “Tax Cut!” on it, to cover up for the fact that the Tories, and specifically Gideon Osborne, don’t know anything about the economy, really, and it has only become obvious to them relatively recently that the “responsibility … sharing the proceeds of growth … no irresponsible tax cuts” line wasn’t going to cut it any more. Everyone else is talking tax cuts now, but they’ve got nothing much to announce, and the fiddly bits and pieces they’d come up with so far (Council Tax “freeze”, Marriage Bonus, Inheritance Tax threshold to millionaire-friendly level, etc) were looking a bit shabby and tight-fisted in comparison. Hence today’s policy.

It’s a good job we’ve got an economic team who were able to beat the rest of the parties to it, despite the slowing effect of the Lib Dem policy ratification process, isn’t it? We’ve had a revenue neutral package to really help people on low and middle incomes for over a year now. The way to create job growth is to give everyone a significant amount of their own money back. Spending goes up, jobs are really created, etc. Today’s Tory plan does next to nothing to mitigate the recession.

Go back to your drawing board and try again, Gideon and Dave.

Cameron Reverts To Type

Well, today David Cameron made the speech that made clear what his opponents have been saying all along: That his first year or two as leader were a complete fiction designed to de-toxify the Tory brand. Now that he’s ahead in the polls, he feels comfortable speaking with conviction about the things he actually believes. Lets take a quick look at some of the contrasts.

In his speech accepting the leadership of the party, Cameron said:

We need to change the way we feel. No more grumbling about modern Britain. I love this country as it is, not as it was, and I believe our best days lie ahead.

Today’s Cameron, though, seems to have no problems grumbling about modern Britain, even criticising as out of touch those who caution against his exaggerated rhetoric:

Some say our society isn’t broken. I wonder what world they live in. Leave aside that almost two million children are brought up in households where no one works. Or that there are housing estates in Britain where people have a lower life expectancy than in the Gaza Strip. Just consider the senseless, barbaric violence on our streets. Children killing children. Twenty-seven kids murdered on the streets of London this year. A gun crime every hour. A serious knife crime every half hour. A million victims from alcohol related-attacks.

But it’s not just the crime; not even the anti-social behaviour. It’s the angry, harsh culture of incivility that seems to be all around us. When in one generation we seem to have abandoned the habits of all human history that in a civilised society, adults have a proper role – a responsibility – to uphold rules and order in the public realm not just for their own children but for other people’s too.

2005’s Cameron was keen that

my children, your children, grow up in a country where the streets are safe, the public space isn’t filthy, where it isn’t a hassle to get around, you can own your own home and where climate change and the environment aren’t an afterthought.

but today’s Cameron made the environment exactly that, tacking onto the end of his speech a solitary sentence on the environment proper, just before coming into the final stretch of his speech:

We changed because knew we had to make ourselves relevant to the twenty-first century.

You didn’t champion green politics as greenwash, but because climate change is devastating our environment because the energy gap is a real and growing threat to our security and because $100-a-barrel oil is hitting families every time they fill up their car and pay their heating bills.

To be fair, the other part of the speech that mentioned the environment was this:

I am also a child of my time. I want a clean environment as well as a safe one.

What strikes you about these two quotes? Most obvious is how far the environment has fallen down the agenda. Compare it to, say, this bit of his 2006 leader’s speech to conference:

As you might have gathered by now, I am passionate about our environment. It’s a very personal commitment. I grew up in the countryside. I’ve always loved the outdoors. As you can see if you look around this conference, I’m quite keen on trees.

We saw in our debate on Monday the scale of the threat from climate change. I know that we have within us the creativity, the innovation, the technological potential to achieve green growth – sustainable prosperity. The Stern report will tell us that the tools of success are in our grasp. But it will also say that the price of inaction gets higher every day.

So I will not pretend to you that it will be easy. That there will be no pain or sacrifice. If you want to understand climate change, go and see Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth. Today, I want to tell the British people some uncomfortable truths. There is a price for progress in tackling climate change. Yes of course low-energy light bulbs, hybrid cars – even a windmill on your roof can make a difference and also save money.

But these things are not enough. Government must show leadership by setting the right framework. Binding targets for carbon reduction, year on year. That would create a price for carbon in our economy. What does that mean? It means that things which produce more carbon will get more expensive. Going green is not some fashionable, pain-free option.

It will place a responsibility on business. It will place a responsibility on all of us. That is the point. Tackling climate change is our social responsibility – to the next generation.

And I’ll tell you something:In politics, it’s much easier to take steps that will be painful if political parties work together, instead of playing it for partisan advantage. That’s what we have offered to do. We have asked Tony Blair to put a climate change bill in the Queen’s speech. If he does, we’ll back it. So come on, prime minister. It’s your last few months in office. It’s your last Queen’s speech. Use it to do something for the environment.

At no point in 2008’s speech was there a section on the environment as an issue. In the first quote, the environment is an example of a change to the Tory party. In the second, it’s a piece of character window-dressing for Brand Cameron. Neither sees any hint of a policy direction like 2006’s quote. In both cases, the issue is not important in and of itself, but because of what it supposedly says about Cameron or the changes he has brought to the party. If that isn’t a clear demonstration from Cameron that he doesn’t really care about the environment as an issue, he merely recognises its potency as a vehicle for changing public perception of him and his party, then I don’t know what is.

Some of the Cameron of the past even proves to be quite prophetic about the present. For instance:

I think that when some people talk about substance, what they mean is they want the old policies back.

Appropriately enough, today’s more sober, substantive speech sounded very much more like a Tory speech; no sentence would have been out of place in the Daily Mail.

Let’s also note that whilst the Tories are far too “responsible” to make commitments to cut taxes on low income taxpayers (managing only a fairly pathetic, fiddling Council Tax Freeze that has been taken apart skillfully elsewhere, so I won’t rehash that one here), they aren’t beyond making commitments to help payers of Inheritance Tax, and now also Corporation Tax. The only real commitment that Cameron has made that will genuinely affect most people on low incomes is his moralising Marriage Bonus.

The real turning point in British politics in the last year or two was not Brown’s bottled election, it was Cameron’s back-pedalling on grammar schools, and the quiet distancing of the party from the Goldsmith-Gummer review. That was the point where it became clear that his party could only be pushed so far before they would grumble too much. That is the turnaround that could really make a difference to our country in the long run, not whether Gordon Brown hung on for a couple more years and achieved very little other than reacting to events.