UK coalition government relies on pomp and circumstance to avoid meltdown

Iconic adman and three-time election-winning Thatcher adviser turned public relations oligarch Lord Bell, speaking at an IPA event in March 2010, summed up election strategy thus: if a country’s ‘feel-good factor’ stays above a certain level, governing parties win elections. If it drops below that level, they are defeated.

Sadly, there is no official measurement for ‘feel-good factor’ – but if there was it would make for a brilliant interactive ticker on the soon-to-be non-BSkyB Sky News. This week in particular, charts would have climbed wildly north-east, newsreader Kay Burley’s excited commentary barely registering over the commotion.

In reality, May has not been a good month to celebrate the coalition government’s first birthday. Health secretary Andrew Lansley was hauled over hot coals by angry health-care professionals and climate secretary Chris Huhne was literally in The Thick of It avoiding questions about speeding offences.

Oh, and the coalition’s original chief secretary to the treasury, liberal democrat David Laws, was officially suspended from Parliament for seven days – having only been in cabinet for 17.

The local elections and AV referendum on May 5 had driven a wedge between the prime minister and his deputy. The ‘No’ to AV voting broke 2010’s promise of a ‘new politics’ and beleaguered business secretary Vince Cable stumbled from one media outlet to another, lambasting the “ruthless” tactics of his cabinet colleagues.

With the Government close to meltdown, veteran politician Ken Clarke, between naps, manfully intervened. Whether he consented or not is unclear, but the spotlight shifted from potential political divorce to national moral outrage over his comments about rape cases. At least Ken gave the political world something else to think about.

Six pretty major problems at once and the putative Sky News graphic makes for dismal viewing.

But it wasn’t and isn’t, that bad. Everyone liked the Royal Wedding, the Queen gave a good account of herself in Ireland and people outside Westminster were far more interested in Ryan Giggs than anything Chris Huhne did, or didn’t.

And then the special one arrived. Connoisseurs of photo opportunities had barely recovered from Barack Obama hoisting a pint of Guinness high into the Moneygall air when they were besieged by snaps of Samantha Cameron’s new kitchen, state banquets and the statuesque Michelle followed by pomp, circumstance and Dave handing out the garnish at Downing Street’s first Obama-que.

So, as ministers settled into their seats to watch the first-ever US presidential address to both Houses of Parliament on Wednesday, there was an air of calm in the 900 year old hall. Andrew Lansley for one, expelled to a naughty chair far from the main podium, was nodding along happily and William Hague looked like the sort of foreign secretary who had his upcoming Bank Holiday planned out to a tee.

And Ken Clarke, nodding off, could be forgiven for suppressing a smile as the Sky News ticker sailed up into Lord Bell’s safety zone.

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About James Charlton

James is a politics graduate who has worked in the parliamentary office of two Government ministers, and more recently as a lobbyist for the advertising industry. He is now an aspirant journalist, tweeting at @jamescharlo.