Coalition under strain

by Daphne Liddle

THE REFERENDUM on alternative voting and the local elections are fast approaching as the divisions within the Con-Dem Coalition are multiplying.

They include student tuition fees, the future of the NHS, immigration, environmental issues, mission-creep in the attack on Libya and many other matters. And the divisions are not only between Tories and Liberal Democrats; many Tory backbenchers are also uneasy with Cameron’s policies.

Last week it came to light that Health Secretary Andrew Lansley’s “pause for thought” during the passage of his Bill to butcher the NHS is a blatant fraud. Lansley may talk to a few nurses and even postpone the passing of the Bill until after the May elections.

But he has no intention whatsoever of changing it. Behind the scenes preparations for its implementation are steaming ahead as fast as ever.

Nick Clegg last week issued a stark warning yesterday that the Liberal Democrats will not back Andrew Lansley’s controversial health shake-up without “substantial changes”. Clegg set out five key demands which he insists are “non-negotiable”. They include blocking attempts by big business to “cherry-pick” services, giving doctors and nurses a greater say in contracting care, and delaying the handover of £60 billion of health spending to groups of GPs beyond the planned 2013 deadline.

But this show of defiance was more for the benefit of rank and file Lib-Dems to try to convince them that Clegg has some influence over Lansley and that the Lib-Dems are still worth voting for.

The tuition fees issue that so enraged for Lib-Dem supporting students last November and December has returned, as universities throughout the country have set their fees either at the £9,000-a-year maximum or very close to it. The average cost will be £8,600.

Then last week Cameron played the same old lame race card that boo meranged on former Tory leader Michael Howard a few years ago. He attacked the former Labour government for allowing in too many immigrants.

Labour — and now Cameron — have had, under European Union laws, to allow in all EU citizens — just as other EU countries have to allow British settlers seeking to spend their retirement in a warmer climate.

And immigrants from outside the EU have been cherry-picked for their useful qualifications.

Cameron complains — for the benefit of the old guard racists in his party — that immigrants are not quick enough to learn English — while cutting funding for them to do so.

There is no evidence of immigrants to Britain being mad enough to refuse to learn English but you can safely bet that very few of our emigrants to the Costa-del-Sol will even consider learning Spanish.

This crude use of the race card disgusted Business Secretary Vince Cable, who told the BBC that Cameron’s speech was “very unwise” and “risk inflaming extremism”.

MPs from all parties, including Tory backbenchers, have repeatedly expressed concern over the “mission creep” in the attacks on Libya — that have gone way beyond the United Nations mandate on “protecting civilians”.

When the bombing attacks began Foreign Minister William Hague insisted they had nothing to do with regime change — though they blitzed Gaddafi’s residence. Even then the cynicism was blatant in their claim to be protecting civilians while blasting the country with depleted uranium weapons that will leave a toxic radioactive legacy to poison generations to come.

But last week the rebels — backed by Britain and France — rejected a peace plan from the African Union because it did not involve instant regime change.

Cameron rubbished the peace plans and insisted Gaddafi must go.

The latest announcement from Hague that about a dozen British military officers are being ordered to join the rebels of the Libyan National Transitional Council has added further urgency to the suggestion that Britain is engaged on a gradual, and undeclared, escalation of its role.

Tory MP John Baron has called for a recall of Parliament from its Easter recess to debate the mission change. Baron said: “This is clear evidence of mission creep. Now we are beginning to put military personnel on the ground, something that wasn’t even discussed when we debated this issue.”

And last week the Tories again revealed their hypocrisy by categorising environmental protection laws as “red tape” and considering abolishing them.

There are many rank and file Lib-Dems who are active environmentalists and some Tories who support the conservation of our countryside who are appalled.

We can see why Cameron is rushing to cut as much as possible before his coalition totally collapses. But the more he rushes, the more he divides it.