Nick Clegg has today announced measures that we can all applaud, such as abandoning the ID card, the NIR, Contact Point, and so on. It is a Big Bang of reforms, intended to make the State smaller , less intrusive and more accountable, and to make manifest the Big Society, all in a woosh, just like the Origins of the Universe, and all going on expanding forever. Of course, in the Universe, some big things are just gaseous exhalations, and some small things so dense and heavy that they exert irresistible gravitational pull, and so it may turn out once more, here and merely in England.
What Nick Clegg has done is to cherry pick some of the Liberals favourite causes. But it is worth noting that what these measures demonstrate is not only what the Liberals believe in, but to say – look, the Coalition works. No one is going to stop him doing that, certainly not David Cameron, not at the moment at any rate. Anyhow, CamCleg have discovered that the Big Society is the same thing as Liberalism, so off they go, hand in hand.
What they really mean, though, is that they both dislike the State (renascent Thatcherism). They don’t by any means have the same idea of what Society should be outside the State, and once they get to that point things will become sticky. Bearded Liberals will not lie down with Shire Tories. It is an underlying difference of some importance to civil liberty issues, and privacy / identity issues, and because of it I find it difficult to see how they will formulate a long term coalition position on these matters. Once the honeymoon is over they might discover they have nothing in common and file for divorce.
This difficulty runs through the whole Coalition. The fact is that the Coalition is a sort of National Government, formed as a response to the apparent economic and fiscal threat, and requiring a mature and no doubt cautious sense of duty to the Country – something that will last for five years. There are compensations and rewards for demonstrating this maturity, the bonfire of controls, the proposed constitutional reforms, but this sort of trade-off won’t provide a long term platform for developing new policy on anything, let alone on privacy issues. What will happen when they can’t sort the deficit out without serious pain – will Clegg be rewarded for his support with further concessions to causes dear to Liberal hearts but probably not to Conservative ones?
But who can tell? You might just as well go to the Psychic Studio in the Holloway Road (not bad actually), as to the Cosmologists. And Mr Clegg, CCTV is regulated already, after a fashion.