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

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Nicola Sturgeon is betting on Brexit becoming real before autumn 2018

Second independence referendum plans have been delayed but not ruled out.

Three months after announcing plans for a second independence referendum, and 19 days after losing a third of her Scottish National Party MPs, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon booted the prospect of a second independence referendum into the heather. 

In a statement at Holyrood, Sturgeon said she felt her responsibility as First Minister “is to build as much unity and consensus as possible” and that she had consulted “a broad spectrum of voices” on independence.

She said she had noted a “commonality” among the views of the majority, who were neither strongly pro or anti-independence, but “worry about the uncertainty of Brexit and worry about the clarity of what it means”. Some “just want a break from making political decisions”.

This, she said had led her to the conclusion that there should be a referendum reset. Nevertheless: "It remains my view and the position of this government that at the end of this Brexit process the Scottish people should have a choice about the future of our country." 

This "choice", she suggested, was likely to be in autumn 2018 – the same time floated by SNP insiders before the initial announcement was made. 

The Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie responded: “The First Minister wishes to call a referendum at a time of her choosing. So absolutely nothing has changed." In fact, there is significance in the fact Sturgeon will no longer be pursuing the legislative process needed for a second referendum. Unlike Theresa May, say, she has not committed herself to a seemingly irreversable process.

Sturgeon’s demand for a second independence referendum was said to be partly the result of pressure from the more indy-happy wing of the party, including former First Minister Alex Salmond. The First Minister herself, whose constituency is in the former Labour stronghold of Glasgow, has been more cautious, and is keenly aware that the party can lose if it appears to be taking the electorate for granted. 

In her speech, she pledged to “put our shoulder to the wheel” in Brexit talks, and improve education and the NHS. Yet she could have ruled out a referendum altogether, and she did not. 

Sturgeon has framed this as a “choice” that is reasonable, given the uncertainties of Brexit. Yet as many of Scotland’s new Labour MPs can testify, opposition to independence on the doorstep is just as likely to come from a desire to concentrate on public services and strengthening a local community as it is attachment to a more abstract union. The SNP has now been in power for 10 years, and the fact it suffered losses in the 2017 general election reflects the perception that it is the party not only for independence, but also the party of government.

For all her talk of remaining in the single market, Sturgeon will be aware that it will be the bread-and-butter consequences of Brexit, like rising prices, and money redirected towards Northern Ireland, that will resonate on the doorstep. She will also be aware that roughly a third of SNP voters opted for Brexit

The general election result suggests discontent over local or devolved issues is currently overriding constitutional matters, whether UK-wide or across the EU. Now Brexit talks with a Tory-DUP government have started, this may change. But if it does not, Sturgeon will be heading for a collision with voter choice in the autumn of 2018. 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

0800 7318496