By Tim Montgomerie
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One of Tory HQ's favourite attacks on Labour is to accuse their leaders of dithering and weakness. It produced a dossier on Ed Miliband's first 100 days making this very allegation. It was how Cameron described Gordon Brown on the day that Mr Grumpy scrapped plans for an autumn 2007 honeymoon election.
Leaders are as well known for their personal qualities as the content of their policies. With Thatcher it was strength. Blair was about modernity. I'd nominate civility as Obama's defining quality – at least at the beginning. Number 10 plans to present Cameron as "strong" and "fair" in the next election campaign and it must therefore be alert to the possibility that a weakness narrative starts attaching itself to the Coalition and indirectly to Cameron himself. The Sun makes the charge this morning in its second 'leader', entitled "Stop dithering":
"The latest GDP figures on Wednesday will be another major test for George Osborne’s ever-weakening grasp on our economy. Experts predict a third negative quarter in a row — making the last nine months the longest double dip recession since World War Two. Yet still the Coalition Government dithers. In the last 10 days alone, key business decisions over airport expansion and energy supply were delayed again. Why? Because Tories and Lib Dems still put their childish bickering above the nation’s needs. We must ask: Is this weak-willed, self-obsessed Coalition now the biggest block of all to the recovery?"
Some of us focus on the substance of the Lords rebellion or the battle between Osborne and the Lib Dems over green policy or Cable's public briefing against Beecroft or why certain U-turns were made or splits on Europe… but The Sun is right. The public doesn't look at the detail, just the big picture. Unless the Coalition gets its act together the public will simply see this Government as one that cannot make progress regardless of whether the issue is deregulation, airports policy or human rights reform.
Critics of hung parliament predicted this would happen, of course. The Lib Dem ambition of converting the British people to the idea of coalition government looks unlikely to be realised. But our party's reputation is going to suffer collateral damage too if we don't follow the thrust of Gary Streeter's advice* and work harder to make this Coalition work.
* I say thrust because I wouldn't go as far as him and say we should "love the Coalition". Respect might do though.