It's worth noting, at least on my diary of political angst - for personal posterity, in other words, you understand - that I'd been reading the Letters blog for a couple of years or so already, long before I'd thought about the idea of an online diary of my own. But it was his efforts that finally convinced me to have a crack at it myself - at the start of last year. I have to be grateful for that, not least because it's more or less kept me sane.
Well, now he's gone, sadly. But his last post doesn't just resonate as much as all his others, it's a perfect warning to David Cameron, a man who, so far, has done pretty well as coaltionist Prime Minister, but he's also ignored, alarmingly, his people.
Anyway, here's the quitter's last post:
Dear David Cameron,Wise words, wouldn't you think?
This is the final letter that I will ever write, as this blog will sadly be closing down tomorrow (along with a final goodbye from me). I appreciate that this salient fact may have escaped your attention due to some rather important events in your own life and career over the past few days. Even so, regardless of the election result, you were always going to be the last person that I wrote to, as there is so much that I’d like to say.
When you became leader of the Conservative Party in 2005, I had barely heard of you. Along you came, with a superb leadership campaign and a genuine belief that the Conservative Party had to change in order to win an election – which was, of course, entirely correct. Over the following months and years, we saw the environment take centre-stage, euroscepticism get quietly tucked away and centre-ground political thinking forced onto a somewhat reluctant group of MPs. It was necessary, but it was a bitter pill to swallow. Nevertheless, the Conservative MPs on the benches behind you in the House of Commons soon realised that you could deliver a Conservative government, and for that reason alone they kept their mouths shut (most of the time). However, your inner cabal of strategists, image gurus and modernisers did not have it all their own way. On several occasions, including the election campaign itself and the election that never was in 2007, your closed circle came under huge pressure from the electorate and your own party. Yes, they survived, as did you, but only just. As we approached the recent general election, voters were still unsure about who you were and what you believed in, which is staggering after five years of leading the opposition. Your desire to keep your cards close to your chest and deal purely in intangibles and soundbytes almost cost you a place in 10 Downing Street. The public don’t like feeling uneasy about potential Prime Ministers, yet they were fed uneasiness in spades. Despite all the funding you could have asked for and a crippled government, it so nearly went horribly wrong.
Here we are, just a few days later, witnessing a truly historic coalition between you – a liberal conservative – and the Liberal Democrats. Ironically enough, everything is completely different yet little has changed. You still have a group of MPs who will be sitting behind you, watching, waiting, holding their nerve for as long as possible in the hope that you can deliver a truly successful and admired Conservative government. Common sense tells them to keep quiet rather than voice their anger and irritation. You will have your inner cabal with you in government as they were in opposition, making decisions that affect everyone and everything despite having shown their incompetence on more than one occasion. Moreover, the coalition deal has put many of your favoured issues – social justice, a green economy, civil liberties – at the heart of your plans for government. You didn’t hide your disappointment at not getting a majority in the House of Commons, yet you have gracefully and seamlessly organised a historic coalition with another party. The question on everyone’s lips now is, naturally, will it last? I have no idea what the answer is to that question, but then again neither do you. What I find interesting, though, is not that things could go well or go badly – that is just stating the obvious. The most incredible element of this coalition is the breathtaking gulf between the best case scenario and worst case scenario for you and the Conservative Party.
The best case scenario for 2015 is simple enough. The economy will be growing at a healthy rate and both unemployment and economic inactivity will be reduced. The welfare state will have been transformed by supporting people into work and punishing those who chose not to get a job. Our broken society will have begun its long healing process through stronger families, good schools, lower crime and genuine localism taking hold. Government waste will have been largely eliminated and the state will be much leaner and fitter than it is now. British people will be put first, civil liberties will be untouchable and immigration will be severely curtailed. People’s faith in politics and politicians will have been mostly restored. The Lib Dems will have kept their end of the deal, leaving themselves with absolutely no electoral appeal relative to the Conservative Party and facing annihilation. The Labour Party will be rife with infighting and weak leadership, making them virtually unelectable given your strong performance as Prime Minister and with the memory of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown fresh in many people’s minds.
The worst scenario, however, is nothing short of disaster. The coalition falls apart within months as the Lib Dems walk away, accusing you of ignoring them and not delivering on promises. You look weak and indecisive, with your own party demanding tougher action on any number of issues. The Conservative grassroots refuse to campaign because you and your inner cabal leave them disillusioned with pointless platitudes and non-traditional policies. The economy staggers along, still badly wounded, and public sector cuts push unemployment in the wrong direction. The voters ignore your pleas over the necessity of cutting government spending while every policy announcement is met with scorn and cries of ’spin’. Your school reforms and localist agenda stumble and fall. Your welfare reforms leave you branded as abandoning the poor and needy. Uncontrolled immigration continues unabated and the anger spills over onto the streets. Your pro-EU stance forces some backbench MPs to break ranks and speak out against the party line. Labour regroups and, as the only strong opposition party, lap up your failures and convince the floating Lib Dems and disgruntled Conservative voters to join them. Electoral defeat is little more than an inevitability.
My political crystal ball is of no use. For the life of me, I just cannot see where this will all end up. Neither the best case scenario nor the worst case scenario are implausible, outlandish or inconceivable, yet the two scenarios are a staggering distance apart. The only thing that I can say with any certainty is that the future is very uncertain. The history books will remember the next five years of British politics as one of the most incredible periods in living memory. I just can’t decide whether that will be for better or for worse.
Good luck, Mr Cameron. You’re going to need it.
I'm not going to link through to the source site of this article because it's now officially (so I've been told) dead.