Jim Sillars: Coalition divide can’t conquer UK’s crisis

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With the Olympic party over, the excitement drained away, it feels a bit like those days after New Year celebrations when the fairy lights come off the Christmas tree, decorations are packed away, the house looks bare, and we wake up to paying the credit card we lashed out on. But the memories linger on of the elite athletes displaying just that – elitism.

Very few would not have been enthralled by the performances, especially of Team GB. My wife was so concerned about Tom Daley’s health and pursuit of a medal that I began to wonder whether we had adopted him. As for Team GB four years hence, even if Scotland is independent there is every reason for sending a single team to Rio. It would be stupid, for example, for two rowers to train together for two years, then miss any chance of a medal by parting company due to a political decision. In any event, Great Britain describes the main island, not the United Kingdom.

We have so many people homeless, including ex-soldiers who fought as heroes in Iraq and Afghanistan, yet there are no protests when the politicians, in a peon of praise for elitism, will spend £500 million over the next four years on elite athletes heading for Rio, for what is a short-term boost to morale. The paradox is that the political class loves elitism in sport but is dumbing down our elite universities, from which we must bring forth our most able people and best scientists if we are to survive in the long-term trade battle with Asia.

But throughout civilization, sport at the highest levels, as entertainment, has always been treated differently from any other activity, as has the making of music. No poorly paid Celtic supporter ever complained about Henrik Larsson getting £48,000 a week as long as he banged in the goals. The highest paid people in the Roman Empire were the chariot drivers who fulfilled today’s athletes’ function, then of competition, rivalry, and spectacle. In the Eastern Empire in Constantinople supporters divided into two bitter factions, the green and the blue. Nothing, it seems, changes.

But the party is over. The economy is not hitting the gold standard. We are in recession. The eurozone is spreading its poison to the rest of the global economy, and in our Westminster seat of government, where the big decisions are taken on the economy, tax, spending and national debt repayments, there is a dangerous political split at its heart.

Coalition governments can work. Donald Dewar’s and Jack McConnell’s coalitions with the Lib Dems at Holyrood saw harmony and stability. The reason was that neither side threatened the other. The Lib Dem vote in Scotland is down in the Borders and up in the Highlands, places where Labour is weak. In the central belt, Labour’s heartland, the Lib Dems hardly register.

That is not the case in England between the Tories and their coalition partners. Each threatens the other in umpteen seats. They despise each other. The Lib Dems parade themselves as the nice people of politics, whereas the Tories view them, from bitter experience, as the dirty tricks party, opportunists and hypocrites. The Lib Dem written pledge at the last election to reject a rise in university tuition fees, to get the student vote, then doing the opposite to get into government was, in Tory eyes, typical. Cameron and Clegg get on well but there is no respectful relationship between their MPs.

It wouldn’t matter if it was only a very inconvenient, bad tempered, dysfunctional political marriage bound to end in tantrums, tears and viciousness that affected only them. But this is the government whose judgements are vital to the life and wellbeing of over 60 million people on these islands. We are not going to get cool, rational, considered assessments of the issues that face us – the recession, the need to engineer growth, the growing unemployment among the young, the need to adjust the relationship with the EU and shift more of our trade effort to Asia and the Pacific. What we are going to get is Lib Dem sabotage of government Bills, with the incredible spectacle of the Deputy Prime Minister instructing government ministers to vote against government policy with the assurance that they will remain in office, making the Prime Minister look a fool. If our creditors wake up and realise this is not a government but a farce, look out for us getting the Spain treatment of very high interest rates on the billions we need to borrow.

The UK is in economic crisis with the government in disarray. This House of Commons cannot stand so divided. Look out for an election this year if the Tories win the Corby by-election.