Where’s the vision, Prime Minister?

So 91 Conservative MPs voted against the Government’s House of Lords reform bill. Despite the fact that Cameron won the vote thanks to Labour support, the timetabling bill was withdrawn, and there is no chance of this major piece of constitutional tinkering hitting the statute book any time soon.

Two immediate questions arise. First, what happens next? Secondly, how did the Government find itself in the position of proposing legislation which is anathema to many of its Conservative supporters, inside and outside Parliament? In a sense, the first question is less interesting, because there is plenty of time to for us to speculate, and the business managers to wheel and deal. The Tory rebels think the legislation is a dead duck. The Coalition partners will presumably go through the motions of keeping it on the table.

Today’s newspapers speculate that the Prime Minister promised Nick Clegg that he would support Lords reform in compensation for the defeat of the Alternative Vote referendum. This is surely the slippery slope of Coalition. What is the point of the largest single party (by nearly 50 seats) being suckered into promoting a policy that has nothing to do with Conservative philosophy, that cannot be considered any kind of priority, and is regarded with total indifference by the electorate as a whole?

It is not enough for the Coalition to sort the economy out – vital though that is. There has to be a vision, an overarching raison d’etre for this Government.

Labour are rightly disliked for what they did in office – not just in terms of economic policy. There was waste on a massive scale, and also a nanny state mentality that compounded the waste. There was also laissez-faire on benefits and immigration. As the country became weaker and poorer, it must have seemed to most voters that the beneficiaries from Labour policies were almost anyone but them.

Like many people, I felt after the 2010 General Election that the Coalition promised well. A balance of Conservative and Lib Dem policies, built around economic realism, should have been a refreshing change after the nightmare of New Labour and the dark night of the happily brief Brown regime.

But there doesn’t seem to be any vision, or higher purpose. Cameron and Clegg have faithfully followed the New Labour model of an endless succession of disconnected policy announcements – all purporting to right a wrong, or save money somehow. It has been undiluted problem-solving, with nary an opportunity in sight.

Britain needs hope, not despair. It needs to preserve the best, as it accepts cuts and sacrifice. The British people need to understand where our leaders are coming from, and where they are seeking to take us. If they are going to support the Government, they need to believe in it, and what it stands for.

The scatter-gun approach is unconvincing and unmotivating. Given the overriding economic need for what Brown used to call prudence (until he abandoned it when he sold our gold reserves for a mess of pottage), a mixture of small ‘l’ liberal ideas and the preservation and conservation of the best of Britain, would have been popular.

That’s not what we have experienced.

Cameron has some crucial decisions to make. He should spend the recess looking for vision, big ideas, and a vote-winning programme for the next two and a half years. If Clegg wants to remain as Deputy PM, he will have to accept this vision – and say goodbye to irrelevant flights of fancy like “Senators” with 15 year terms.

If they can’t agree on a vision, the Lib Dems should be allowed to concentrate on avoiding electoral oblivion in 2015, while Conservatives give us all something to rally round and get excited about.