Comment: Put down the milk pint and get on with the policy

The lesson for disgruntled Conservatives is that the easiest way to stop a message is to shoot the messenger.

By Mike Indian

"Is she right that you don't know the price of milk?" the BBC's political editor Nick Robinson asked David Cameron.

Mr Robinson displayed his characteristic sense of drama and understatement; there could not be a more important question for any political figurehead.

Monday was a heady mixture of high political debate and low level engagement.

The joint committee on house of lords reform published a report that broadly agreed with the thrust of the government's plans to democratise the upper chamber. A mostly elected
chamber, with a small appointed proportion, serving 15 year terms. Moving away from the constitutional nuts and bolts of the exact number of members (300 versus 450), this ought to be an excellent omen for the coalition and those pressing for reform.

Instead much of the discussion centred on how the package can now be sold. A parliamentary committee may have etched broad agreement, but there is no public appetite for reform and questionable political support among Mr Cameron's more restless backbenchers, such as Mark Pritchard or Nadine Dorries.

David Cameron began his media rounds to admit the difficulty facing reform, but also to affirm his commitment to it. He ended it firmly on the back foot against accusations about his upbringing, via Dorries' allusions to his ignorance about milk.

The Tories have fast fallen out of love with their modernising golden boys. The recent slide in Cameron heir presumptive George Osborne's standing reflects this as well. Yet to brand them posh is nothing more than a cope out. For Conservatives such as Ms Dorries, Cameron, Osborne and their little clique are too smug, too metropolitan and too liberal for ordinary grassroots Conservatives.

She may be right.

These are more than just the 'Mid-Term Blues', Lionel Zetter outlines in his superb post for Dale & Co. When Zetter speaks of the political weather being 'rainy, stormy and overcast', he is setting a long term forecast for the rest of this parliament.

The season matters because of the mood it will set for the important debates still come. Lords reform is only one example. All three main party leaders are digging into their fox holes with price lists for pasties and pints of milk to ward off political pinpricks about being out of touch. Labour under Sadiq Khan and Ed Miliband will make referendum their main point on agreeing to lords reform.

But a debate that turns into trench warfare between the public and the politicians is not worth having.

Put down the milk pint and get on with the policy.

Mike Indian is freelance journalist and editor of The Groucho Tendency.

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