This sad state of affairs is largely down to Labour's ludicrously cumbersome and extended leadership election process which has had the effect of paralysing the official opposition for over four months. Fortunately, this finally comes to an end at next week's Labour Party conference, after which we can expect real politics to resume.
This phoney war contributed to the rather empty feeling after Nick Clegg's speech to the Liberal Democrat conference yesterday which predictably lacked policy substance but also lacked any real passion. True, he managed a fair bit of vigour when attacking Labour for the appalling economic (and for liberals, civil liberties) legacy it left but we all know that the main culprits in that department have all departed the political stage so it felt contrived. He couldn't attack the Conservatives as that would have looked foolish, even if his party tried to hand him some tools for that job earlier in the day by voting against the government's education policies. So without any political enemies in his sights, Clegg had little to offer beyond an extended rallying call to his troops to hold their nerve when the flak really starts flying when the spending review is unveiled.
Now, I know many Liberal Democrats will say this is a typical media misunderstanding of the new politics of co-operation and consensus and that we must learn to expect politicians to spend more time looking for where they agree rather than disagree but it does seem to be a world extraordinarily bereft of passion and belief. Labour's lazy negativity since the election has allowed this thesis of co-operation rather than confrontation to gather credibility and for the assertion that it is what the public wants to go almost unchallenged. I don't think it will hold for long once Labour has a new leader and once the public starts to feel the effects of the accelerated deficit reduction programme.
I think some of the Coalition supporters have mis-read the increasingly indecisive election results (at least in terms of the share of the popular vote) over the last 40 years as an expression of a public desire to see greater co-operation between parties and consensus. It isn't. Most people have voted for parties that offer something they believe in and which represent values that are very distinctive. The consequence of that diverse and divided electorate was finally realised in May when we woke up to a Parliament where none of the parties has a majority. Against a background of economic crisis, a stable government was essential and there was only really one serious option for achieving that, a point that Mr Clegg made well yesterday. The challenge of coalition politics is to forge a workable compromise from different policies and different political beliefs, not to pretend that such differences are not important or even that they no longer exist.
Starting next week, we will see who is right on this. Once Labour has a new leader, the phoney war will be over. It will obviously be a very close contest and whoever wins will have a very tough job rebuilding a party drained by 13 years of increasingly controversial government but they will almost instantly sharpen up Labour's attacks on the Coalition. They will also offer David Cameron a real target to shoot at when he stands up in front of the Conservative conference the following week. I expect by the time Parliament returns later in October it will feel much more like real politics has resumed.
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