The penultimate scene of the film “Force 10 from Navarone” concerns the bombing of a dam in Yugoslavia. At first, the dynamite appears to have done no damage, but within a few minutes, cracks in the dam emerge, and then the sheer weight of the water smashes the structure down into the valley.
After David Cameron turned the No2AV campaign into a personal attack on Nick Clegg and then won, but the dynamite made no cracks in the coalition. People argued that the Lib Dems had nowhere to go; they are weakened. It now seems that they are more dangerous exactly where they remain.
Following May 5th, David Cameron was finally celebrated by his party. His was tactical genius, with the luck of a lucky general. He’d taken the Conservative Party through a relatively good election and reduced the power of his coalition partner.
However, only a few days after the referendum we saw the first crack in the dam, when the Lords rejected a section of the Police Reform Bill, which would have created directly elected police commissioners.
Then another crack in the dam appeared over health, when Clegg told his MPs that he was going to reject plans to give the regulator a duty to promote competition in the NHS.
It is beginning to look as if David Cameron will pay a heavy price for authorising the No2AV campaign to focus so personally on Clegg. It also reveals the fatal flaw in the character of David Cameron. He simply can’t help being nasty.
Even at times when he knows better than to allow his nasty side to emerge, he doesn’t seem able to contain it. The No2AV campaign was already winning, but still they went all-out for Clegg. You could argue that it’s difficult to stop a campaign once the artwork has been sent to the printer and so on, but the sheer passion with which they attacked the Lib Dem leadership demonstrates that there was no restraint whatsoever, at the time when the authority to attack was given.
The Tory right demanded that Cameron win the No campaign or face a selection battle. For a moment they looked like they were happy with their leader. But to quote today’s copy on the Order-Order blog:
Backbenchers screaming “We’re sick of the yellow bastards” should be a pretty big wake up call for the PM. He’s in a coalition with three parties, and when is he going to realise the one to his right is not happy?
So as we watch Cameron get hit on both sides, we see the cracks rippling across the dam and the great weight of water pushing down on the coalition.
It was a mistake to think that Nick Clegg has got nowhere to go. All he wanted was to deliver AV to his party then bow out of politics with grace. He was never going to join the Conservative Party at the next election. He just wanted to recover his honour.
Meanwhile Ed Miliband finally seems to have found some fire in his belly. Tearing into Ken Clarke over sentencing is what we’ve been wanting him to do. Clarke has lost his edge. I used to admire him, but these days, he’s just not on top of his brief. Anyone who wants a more liberal penal policy would be bound to be disappointed, with this man casually playing with the idea, as if it were a toy.
So returning to the metaphor, the coalition’s dam now has visible cracks. We see water pouring through in great gushes, but we don’t know whether it is fatally flawed or just cosmetically damaged. Only time will tell.
Here’s the film clip.