Norman Tebbit is confusing the coalition with the Tories

It is Tory ministers, not their Lib Dem counterparts, who are responsible for the "omnishambles".

Close but no cigar, Norman Tebbit

When you say:

This dog of a coalition government has let itself be given a bad name and now anybody can beat it…The abiding sin of the government is not that some ministers are rich but that it seems unable to manage its affairs competently

…you make the mistake of confusing "the government" with "the Conservative Party".

You are not alone in this error. Most Tory backbenchers seem to spend much of their time bemoaning the fact that Lib Dems are hanging around, preventing them from implementing an unpleasant right-wing agenda. I suppose it’s second nature, when you view yourselves as the natural party of government, to forget that you didn’t win the last election.

But take a look at all the examples of why the sobriquet "omnishambles" is being bandied around so (for want of a better word) liberally at the moment. In the past week, when there has been a sequence of good pieces of economic news, the agenda has been dominated by the "energy-policy-that-never-was" , "plebgate", and "the great train snobbery".

In fact, take a look at the 34 U-turns the government has made to date. Thirty three were performed by the Tories. The 34th – Lords reform  - may have been announced by Nick Clegg, but we all know that’s down to Conservative mismanagement too. And it will lead to the 35th – boundary reform – which will cost the Tories dearly at the next election. Another cock up.

That’s without picking up on the stuff the Tories have managed to get away with. My personal favourite is that the PM managed to appoint a new Transport Secretary, apparently forgetting that her west London constituency and its proximity to Heathrow may cause a few issues. So, just 11 months later, he moved her out – and brought in an aviation minister whose constituency sits next to Stansted and who is an avowed opponent of the third runway at Heathrow. Well done, Mr Cameron, top work.

And that’s before we even start on the Budget….

The Lib Dems may have done many things in government that have proved unpopular - as much with the rank and file of the party as with the country at large. But the one charge you can’t level at our representatives in Westminster is incompetence. The Tories have that field all to themselves.

Norman Tebbit – we’re certainly not all in this together.

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

David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg walk through the Aldermere Housing Development. 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

Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.