HOC

Cable’s Carte Blanche shows Coalition Will Survive

In the old days, Craig Oliver would have been drafting an exchange of letters between David Cameron and Vince Cable – accepting the business secretary’s resignation.

It was the job of the communications director to ensure an orderly process when a Cabinet minister openly defied the Prime Minister on the day of a major speech.

But Mr Cable is still in his job despite publicly, and repeatedly, criticizing the PM and his speech on immigration which was government policy.

The fact that he was not sacked tells us enormous amounts about the Coalition, its strength and its chances of survival.

Mr Cameron has made impressive strides persuading the world it’s ok for Cabinet ministers to hold different views.

It is a refreshing and grown-up attitude – and one which is vital in a Coalition.

But it’s one thing to allow the Cabinet to have different views – quite another to let them deliberately try to sabotage government policy.

Especially when the PM has entered the minefield of immigration.

There’s a fashionable theory doing the rounds that “clever” people in no10 dreamed up a strategy – let the Premier talk about immigration and allow the LibDems to condemn him.

This will drive up interest in the AV referendum and allow both sides to campaign hard.

I don’t buy it.

Nothing in politics ever works to that level of sophistication.

Mr Cable is free to criticize his boss – and his own government’s policy – because he cannot be sacked.

The five LibDem Cabinet ministers are dug in and on a long journey with Nick Clegg which doesn’t end in next month’s local election disaster for their party.

They believe they are engaged in a marathon which ends with the LibDems being seen by all voters as a party serious about government, they hope.

It’s worth going back to why the Coalition exists in the first place.

Mr Clegg joined the Coalition because he had no choice.

Letting the Tories rule with a minority government would have led to a second election last November which the Tories would have won with a proper majority.

And the LibDems would have looked to all the world as if they weren’t serious about power.

They are now locked in to Coalition government and will stay in it.

The PM, for his part, wants the Coalition to survive. He believes in it. And he wants the biggest tent possible so he can keep the Left out of power for good.

But every time Mr Cable speaks out, there is growing resentment amongst the ranks of government ministers.

They feel they have to toe the line and bite their tongues but the business secretary has carte blanche.

These are the tensions which inevitably build below the surface, like an iceberg.

A reshuffle is on the horizon, but so far, I am told the PM is not planning to make Cabinet changes despite the problems faced by Andrew Lansley and Ken Clarke.

Serious people in the Conservative ranks are pushing for Cabinet changes, however.

They want Sayeeda Warsi moved from the party chair because it’s ineffective to have a Peer at the helm of the organization.

There remains enormous pressure on the PM to take action over at the Department of Health and there is also space to be found for LibDem star David Laws, whose expenses crisis will be cleared up soon.

But the risks involved in changing a Coalition Cabinet are far greater than those for a one party government.

For now, it seems, there is no appetite in the PM’s stomach to take those risks.

Written By

George Pascoe-Watson