This article was first published on the old Suite 101 suite on 2 September 2012. Now, a year on, with the autumn season upon us it is timely to republish, bearing in mind that Parliament has been recalled and the rows about Syria and war, the internal squabbles of the Labour opposition and the strengthening economy render some of this out of date, the fact is that the Coalition is far from rock solid.
British politics’ ‘silly season’ falls between July and party conferences in September/October. It’s when news famine leads to exaggeration to make a story.
In July, as the summer recess begins, inhabitants of the Westminster village disperse to constituencies and sunny climes. The repairers move into the Palaces of Parliament and the media are normally left to scout around with increasing degrees of desperation for some tale, any tale, to fill their pages and airwaves.
There are usually a clutch of stories about crop circles/aliens, sightings of strange animals, soaring temperatures and/or torrential washouts. Some event will frequently drum up demands for Parliament to be recalled and the Government to do their job properly.
Last year, there were the summer riots in many English cities and plenty of on-going turmoil around the world that was both political and economic. In Libya, Gaddafi was yet to be ousted and the recession and difficulties abounded in the Eurozone.
So, many people felt that the quiet season of little news, beyond the perennial educational controversy over A-levels and GCSE results proving the exams are allegedly getting easier, was missing last year. This year genuine news has made for a busy summer.
A Triumph of Activity
2012 will be remembered for a glorious period of extremes. The drought of the spring gave way to the wettest August for a century. The economic woes of austerity vs spending-out-of-recession continued; confidence in banks and bankers plummeted new depths.
The well-being generated by the Queens Golden Jubilee celebrations, followed by an organisational and sports medals storm of success at the Olympic and Paralympic Games despite ticketing, security and spending disasters at the outset, led to national euphoria, nationalistic pride and hosts of inspiring individuals.
There were also arts and media successes related to these events, but no real evidence that either the Government or Prime Minister Cameron personally have been able to cash in on the glow.
That may seem a strange phenomenon, that the government of the day does not always benefit when things go well. However, history shows that that is the norm. War time success from 1939-45 did not guarantee electoral success for Winston Churchill in the 1945 General Election.
Last Autumn Before the Fall?
When politics resumes this autumn, its set to be the usual wars of attrition right across Westminster.
So, after a summer season that was way beyond normal, what can voters expect after the party shenanigans signal return to business? Will the last few months of the year mark the death throes of the Coalition?
The Guardian published a poll in August which indicated that a mere 16% of the electorate expect the Conservative/Lib-Dem Coalition to last for the remainder of the term, till 2015. The survey suggested that there was no gain from the summer events, but the fall-out from the rows about Budget and wealth taxes, Lords reform, constituency boundaries, social welfare reform, airport and rail policies continues to rain down.
In fact, this sample of opinion suggested that the coalition would collapse before two years, with as many as 11% expecting it to disintegrate within a year from now. The natural tensions within the uneasy alliance can only grow as individuals seek to drive their own agendas and despair at their own views failing to prevail.
It was Margaret Thatcher who famously loved the adage: expect the unexpected and in politics anything is possible. So a forced general election is a conceivable outcome of an alliance collapse. The poll findings were picked up and published by other papers, and a sense of self-fulfilling prophecies now fills the air.
As politics is all about perception, its also credible that enough whisperings and media speculation, opinion polling that can drive opinion as much as reflect it and wishful thinking could start the countdown to the next general election, regardless of the dreams of others and the amount of relaunches and make-overs the Coalition is given.
People have been predicting the downfall of the governing pact ever since it was formed in May 2010, naturally. Its just that this autumn, it feels more rather than less likely.
Only time will tell whether that would be beneficial to the nation as the Eurozone falls into fragments and chaos and the economic clouds darken still further without any real national agreement and commitment on cutting/expanding public expenditure.
The Guardian, Patrick Wintour and Tom Clark, Coalition government, 12 August 2012. Web 2 September 2012
Conference Season is Fun-and-Games Politics With a Serious Purpose, 9 September 2012