Why Cameron might give humbled Clegg a real job
The Mole: The PM could give Clegg a proper job at Health – thus killing two birds with one stone
David Cameron will appear alongside the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg next week to show that despite the watershed defeat for the 'Yes' campaign in the referendum on electoral reform - in which more than two-thirds of voters rejected change - it's 'business as usual' for the coalition.
The image of Cameron and Clegg together again may be about as convincing as a heart surgeon propping up a dead corpse. If there were an election any day soon, the Liberal Democrats would be deader than the SDP dead parrot.
But senior Tories, who campaigned so vigorously for the 'No' vote, are now seriously worried that smashing for a generation the Lib Dems' hopes of electoral reform will lead Cameron to offer more concessions to Clegg to keep the coalition government alive long enough to serve a full five-year term.
Tories like Bernard Jenkin, a member of the Conservative 1922 Committee, want Cameron to make no further concessions to the Lib Dems, over what they see as dumb side-issues, and instead stick to the plot of getting Britain out of the economic mess it was left in by Labour.
Cameron can expect a very lively 1922 Committee. They will give him a desk-banging welcome at their weekly meeting, following the remarkable showing by the Tories in the local elections.
The headline result from Thursday's elections was the town hall wipeout of the Lib Dems, which Clegg himself has had to admit was "a real knock".
But just as noteworthy is that the Tories trailed Labour by only two percentage points, despite the unpopularity of the public spending cuts. That has given them real optimism that if this is as bad as it can get, they can pull off a victory at the next election which would enable them to dump the Liberal Democrats altogether.
Jenkin broke cover on the BBC Today programme to call on Cameron not to let Clegg get the coalition bogged down in another potentially dangerous distraction - the reform of the House of Lords.
Cameron is due to publish the Government's proposals for reforming the Lords by the end of the month. All three parties were committed to Lords reform in their election manifestoes, but Tory grandees like Jenkin (his dad was one of Thatcher's Cabinet ministers) want it dropped because it threatens to spark a long, debilitating battle with the existing life peers, who don't want to lose their seats, and fear directly electing the Lords would lead to a constitutional clash with the Commons.
A campaign team has already been formed in the Lords to fight the idea of direct elections to the Upper House, including Betty Boothroyd, the former (and best) Speaker of the Commons.
"Reform of the House of Lords is not a doorstep issue," Jenkin told Today. The issues that came up on the doorstep during the local elections and the AV referendum campaign were the economy, the economy, and the economy.
Meanwhile, like Maria, the singing nun in The Sound of Music, Cameron doesn't know what to do about Clegg. He is being urged to give the Deputy Prime Minister a 'proper' job in the coming reshuffle in July by landing him with a big Whitehall department to run, instead of the non-existant DPM's office. That would keep his hands full and stop him meddling in all sorts of little pies like Lords reform.
One option could be to give Clegg Andrew Lansley's job as Secretary of State for Health. Lansley's health reforms are in a mess and currently shelved. It could kill two birds with one stone. ·
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