Cameron was foolish to disregard the Lib Dems

The PM put his party before the coalition and the Lib Dems will punish him for it.

So, now it’s war.

As the reshuffle unfolded, my timeline was full of fellow Lib Dems asking "Is Cameron actively trying to piss us off?" And frequently it did feel like that. But of course the truth is, Cameron wasn’t really bothered what we thought. That wasn’t what this reshuffle was about. Neither was it really about a strategy to win the next general election - a lurch to the right seems unlikely to hoover up enough votes from UKIP to compensate for the seats the Tories would have won if the boundary changes had gone through.

No, this reshuffle was all about Cameron making sure he was still leading the party at the next election. He can’t afford to think much further than that, so weak is his position currently. He had to appease his backbenchers. And it may have worked for now – although how his stomach must have churned when he heard Nadine saying how much she liked the reshuffle.

But it is a very short term strategy. Yes, promoting the Patersons, Graylings and Hunts of this world may have secured Cameron’s position for a while longer. But just how angry will those same backbenchers be when they still can’t get their favourite policies through. Because it wasn’t Cameron stopping them having their way before. It was the Lib Dems.

There’ll be no third runway at Heathrow. There’ll be no tearing up of the Greenbelt. Even with no Ministers in the MoD (odd move that, Nick) there’ll be no Trident. I doubt if Norman Lamb will allow Jeremy Hunt to introduce his favourite homeopathy treatments into the NHS. There’s going to be a lot of crossed arms, shaking of heads, and great big "no’s". And however good a Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell may turn out to be, that won’t be much cop if the MPs standing in the way are in a different party. Cameron may have decided not to think about the Lib Dems when he reshuffled merrily away yesterday. But it was a foolish decision.

So while Cameron’s cabinet changes may allow him to empathise with his recalcitrant backbenchers for a while, soon the old frustrations will bubble up again. Because he hasn’t solved his real problem. He didn’t win the last general election. And sooner (if the Lib Dems can help it) or later they’ll punish him for it.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Liberal Democrat Conference.

It wasn't Cameron stopping the right from having its way. It was the Lib Dems. Photograph: Getty Images.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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Could Labour lose the Oldham by-election?

Sources warn defeat is not unthinkable but the party's ground campaign believe they will hold on. 

As shadow cabinet members argue in public over Labour's position on Syria and John McDonnell defends his Mao moment, it has been easy to forget that the party next week faces its first election test since Jeremy Corbyn became leader. On paper, Oldham West and Royton should be a straightforward win. Michael Meacher, whose death last month triggered the by-election, held the seat with a majority of 14,738 just seven months ago. The party opted for an early pre-Christmas poll, giving second-placed Ukip less time to gain momentum, and selected the respected Oldham council leader Jim McMahon as its candidate. 

But in recent weeks Labour sources have become ever more anxious. Shadow cabinet members returning from campaigning report that Corbyn has gone down "very badly" with voters, with his original comments on shoot-to-kill particularly toxic. Most MPs expect the party's majority to lie within the 1,000-2,000 range. But one insider told me that the party's majority would likely fall into the hundreds ("I'd be thrilled with 2,000) and warned that defeat was far from unthinkable. The fear is that low turnout and defections to Ukip could allow the Farageists to sneak a win. MPs are further troubled by the likelihood that the contest will take place on the same day as the Syria vote (Thursday), which will badly divide Labour. 

The party's ground campaign, however, "aren't in panic mode", I'm told, with data showing them on course to hold the seat with a sharply reduced majority. As Tim noted in his recent report from the seat, unlike Heywood and Middleton, where Ukip finished just 617 votes behind Labour in a 2014 by-election, Oldham has a significant Asian population (accounting for 26.5 per cent of the total), which is largely hostile to Ukip and likely to remain loyal to Labour. 

Expectations are now so low that a win alone will be celebrated. But expect Corbyn's opponents to point out that working class Ukip voters were among the groups the Labour leader was supposed to attract. They are likely to credit McMahon with the victory and argue that the party held the seat in spite of Corbyn, rather than because of him. Ukip have sought to turn the contest into a referendum on the Labour leader's patriotism but McMahon replied: "My grandfather served in the army, my father and my partner’s fathers were in the Territorial Army. I raised money to restore my local cenotaph. On 18 December I will be going with pride to London to collect my OBE from the Queen and bring it back to Oldham as a local boy done good. If they want to pick a fight on patriotism, bring it on."  "If we had any other candidate we'd have been in enormous trouble," one shadow minister concluded. 

Of Corbyn, who cancelled a visit to the seat today, one source said: "I don't think Jeremy himself spends any time thinking about it, he doesn't think that electoral outcomes at this stage touch him somehow."  

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.