Kevin Meagher looks back at the coalition’s first year in office

Britain, June 2011.

The loss of last month’s referendum on the alternative vote has left the Tory-Lib Dem government reeling. The 90% No vote capped a miserable first year in office for deputy PM, Nick Clegg, and few were surprised at his resignation. Widely blamed for the fiasco, Mr Clegg had never really recovered his popularity following the embarrassing incident when apprentices angry at the scrapping of the future jobs fund tried to throw him into a smelting pot on a visit to his Sheffield constituency.

In a year that saw many dramatic reversals of fortune, Lembit Opik swept back into the Commons, agreeing to take over as interim Lib Dem leader. “I’ve grown up and can give my party exactly what it needs” he smirked, standing on a segway next to his latest fiancée, the recently-divorced Katie Price, as they posed for a double-page spread in the launch edition of Frisky Boy magazine.

His election to parliament was caused by the resignation of treasury chief secretary, Danny Alexander, who was forced out following a notorious television interview in which he conceded that he had not realised 25% cuts to public services “were the same as a quarter”. “Wow” he had said, “that does sound quite a lot when you put it like that”.

Meanwhile the police search continues for Vince “Reggie Perrin” Cable. His clothes were found neatly folded on the beach near Folkestone two weeks ago. Internet rumours that a tango instructor on a Mediterranean cruise ship bore an uncanny resemblance to the former business secretary are not being confirmed. “He had been unhappy for some time”, said friends.

In a bid to head off the collapse of the coalition, former Lib Dem leader, Menzies Campbell, was drafted into the cabinet to inject some “new blood” noting that “a lot had changed” since the last time he served in government under Campbell-Bannerman.

But it is not just the Lib Dems who had a bumpy ride over the last 12 months. David Cameron was lucky to survive getting caught out by a live mic referring to “the lower orders” in a media interview discussing the government’s plans for ‘twenty-first century workhouses’.

His PR instincts deserted him further when he tried to explain that he simply meant that “people in the North were from the lower orders”.  He was fortunate that the interview was on the same day that development minister Alan Duncan was forced to resign after being caught on tape bemoaning his “shit pay, shit ministerial car and shit office”.

But worse was to come. Iain Duncan-Smith’s alleged assault on George Osborne during the final stages of the spending round was a definite low point in the government’s first year. Tory sources maintain that what appeared to be an attempt by the work and pensions secretary to headbutt the chancellor was no more than “an inadvertent clash of heads” as Mr Osborne lent in to hear what quiet man Mr Duncan-Smith was saying when he told him “you’re bleeding the poor dry!”

Meanwhile, home secretary, Teresa May’s, decision to spend a week as a special constable to show that ministers understood the practical implications of the government’s unprecedented cuts to public services did not go to plan when she was taken hostage after mistaking a cannabis factory for an “indoor allotment”.

But her spokesman was quick to point out that it was more successful than Michael Gove’s experience teaching in a comprehensive school which saw infamous “happy slap” footage of the education secretary being dangled out of a second-floor window by a class of feral 12 year-olds after forcing Lord of the Flies onto the reading curriculum.

Elsewhere, the reverberations continue following defence secretary Liam Fox’s recent visit to Afghanistan. Although admitting that he had described it as a “broken 13th-century country” Dr. Fox has strenuously denied ordering a tactical nuclear strike on Kabul. “He was simply asking if it was possible” his spokesman maintains.

Which comes at a low ebb for the government’s foreign relations. Foreign secretary, William Hague’s, instruction that staff should share rooms to allow British embassies around the world to operate as boutique hotels led to an unprecedented day of action from UK ambassadors – who refused to be diplomatic for a day. This caused a series of high profile gaffes which culminated in our Iranian ambassador, Mr Godfrey Chichester-Russell, blowing a kiss to President Ahmadinejad during a routine audience. President Ahmadinejad was said to be feeling “sad and confused” by the gesture.

There have, though, been stars of the new government. Communities’ secretary, Eric Pickles, has impressed with his attempt to plugg the budget deficit by forcing councils to melt down mayoral gold chains “to replace the bullion Gordon Brown sold off”.

Revelling in his tough guy persona, Pickles laughed off a Lib Dem backbench critic who said that like his namesake he was “hard, sour and should be drowned in a jar of vinegar.”  Pickles’ belch of defiance became an international YouTube sensation. Meanwhile, his emerging partnership with Kenneth Clarke is seen by Tory MPs as a “dream ticket” if, as expected, Mr Cameron’s days as premier look numbered.

Even their disastrous joint photo opportunity, when they fell off a rope swing while promoting the inaugural National Big Lad Week, failed to dent their popularity. Although they did seriously injure the Press Association photographer they landed on.

The government has survived allegations that this triggered the tsunami that engulfed the Isle of Wight…

Kevin Meagher is a former special adviser to Labour ministers

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2 Responses to “Kevin Meagher looks back at the coalition’s first year in office”

  1. Clem the Gem says:

    Very funny! But should we really be hoping for a defeat on AV, which leaves the Tories safe in their gerrymandered seats?

  2. Not sure it makes that much difference – the seats aren’t, for the most part, overly gerrymandered – they’re just rural. And sadly the Tories dominate the rural vote everywhere except areas with a coalmining tradition.

    Sadly, there’s no way we’ll win Suffolk West in a normal year, AV or no.

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