Who would you prefer as a work colleague if you were Nick Clegg - Ed Balls or William Hague?
I had an interesting text exchange with an old friend this morning:
Friend: I think the Tory poison is beginning to infect me. I heard William Hague on the radio earlier and I thought he really made sense. Aaaaaarrrrgghhh!
Me: True! His intelligence was never in question - just the ideology. And I'd much rather listen to his voice than Balls, Brown, Blair, Blunkett, Mandelson, etc.
Friend: I thought it was just me. If we voted according to voices [!] he'd be No. 1. And of course he didn't go to public school. But I still can't get the picture of him as a 17 year old at the Tory conference out of my head.
Me: I know. To me he'll always be the Mekon. But he also has a sense of humour, unlike New Labour. I think he's come a long way since the days of the baseball cap.
And this is true.
But William's not the only one who's now older and somewhat wiser. Others who've gone down the Portillo road include Ian Duncan Smith and Teresa May, our new home secretary, who, to her credit, was the first to speak out (at the party conference!) and tell the Tories they were perceived as the Nasty Party.
Portillo, of course, has quit mainstream politics, but there are other pragmatists, and indeed pro-Europeans, like Kenneth Clark, in the new cabinet - so we're entitled to hope, at least, that Cameron will be more of a pragmatist than the hard-line ideological rightist that his party's funders might like him to be. If he really intends to be the first one-nation Tory leader of modern times then the hung parliament and the coalition give him the perfect justification.
Hague's been calling it "a new kind of government", and this is the really important issue. For those of us who believe in the new kind of politics that would be required under PR and the inevitable coalitions that PR would necessitate, this is the perfect chance to model how such a system can work - for the benefit of the country but also for the sake of a healthier political culture.
We need a culture where people get together and talk reasonably and with respect for others' views, instead of bellowing at one another from across the political divide. We need collaboration and not hostility. We need the careful discussion of ideas and proposals, and not government by prime ministerial dictat. We need reasonable people and not raving egomaniacs.
It seems fair to assume that part of the rejection of Labour's offer of coalition was a realisation by the LibDems that they'd very likely be treated as inferiors and minions, which has been part of the New Labour culture for so long. The government we've had since '97 has been stupendously arrogant and abrasive, and has treated all opponents, including those in the professions and the unions, as fools and inferiors. For that they can thank those who led them and provided the models of cloth-eared and bullying behaviour - Blair, Brown, Mandelson, Campbell, Blunkett, Prescott, etc. Fucking good riddance to the lot of them.
Press Conference #1
Surrounded by azeleas, wisteria and birdsong, at twin lecterns in Spring sunshine on the lawn of No 10, Clegg and Cameron held their first press conference this afternoon.
They spoke of being united behind three key principles - freedom, fairness and responsibility. Which is not that far from liberty, fraternity and equality. Pretty revolutionary stuff.
They spoke of their determination to work in the national interest and not narrow party interest. They talked about the politics of give and take. They said we'd had too much short-termism. They said we were going through a historic and seismic shift in our politics. They talked about recasting our political system, and working to a common purpose.
Cameron said we need a political culture where reasonable, civilised and grown up behaviour is seen as a sign of strength, not weakness.
Clegg said our society has been scarred by too much unfairness and inequality.
Did we ever hear this from the New Labour crew? Did they ever really do anything significant about it?
Clegg talked about everybody having the chance to be the person they want to be. About clean, open, plural politics. About a bold reforming government that puts fairness back into Britain. About handing back liberty and privacy. About British traditions of tolerance and fairness being restored.
Now let's see if they can walk the walk.