No promotion and the backbenchers are restless

No promotion and the backbenchers are restless


Do MPs feel that they’re off the leash with no government baubles to dazzle?

The stability that coalition has brought to government is in many ways a good thing, allowing ministers to settle in post, become fully acquainted with their brief, see legislation through from design to statute, and reduce uncertainty. Almost certainly, there will be just the one significant reshuffle – that carried out last summer – with any casual vacancies filled with minimum disruption.

No action (or lack of action in this case) goes without its consequences though, and one increasingly significant one may be the lack of opportunities that glass ceiling offers to backbenchers.

Lib Dems reading poll ratings half what they were in 2010 may be forgiven thinking that their one chance of holding ministerial office is over – even if they survive in 2015, it’s likely as things stand that enough of their colleagues won’t that the chances of them being the swing block are minimal, even if parliament remains hung, which itself is odds-against.

Conservatives, on the other hand, can look gloomily at UKIP’s ratings, Labour leads and the figures required to win outright and conclude that if they’re still on the backbenches, they’ve missed the boat.

If so, they could be forgiven for wondering what the point is of loyally trooping through the government’s lobby day after day.  With plenty of dissent in both voluntary parties to placate, wouldn’t life be easier to look forward to their party regaining its freedom after 2015?

This has already been a rebellious parliament – something assisted, no doubt, by the breadth of political views held across the two parties’ MPs and the fact that parties as a whole can in effect rebel.  While that’s not in the main been their leadership – though that’s beginning to be seen more – there’s certainly been organisation pressure from activists and backbench groups.

All this restlessness has inevitably led some media analysts to speculate about leadership challenges.  That’s lazy thinking: viewing the events of today through the model of yesterday.  Apart from anything else, there’s little that a new leader could do differently without collapsing the coalition, even if an obviously better candidate could be found to make the disruption of a leadership change worthwhile.

There may be some murmurings about Cameron or Clegg but primarily it’s about policy, not least because as new policy remains open for negotiation between the parties, it’s one area backbenchers can still influence.

With no big reshuffle to be anticipated before the election and with the election itself looking at best uncertain, the power of the whips is much reduced.  That’s particularly the case if the MP is adopting a line traditional to his or her party and so likely to please the members in the constituency who’ll be significant in reselection.  That won’t help either Cameron or Clegg establish authority but the dynamics of the coalition and the reality of the economy also means there’s precious little they can do about it.

David Herdson

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