Parliament returns today from the Easter recess, but for many politicians it has not been a relaxing time. Many have been campaigning for not just local elections, but for the Alternative Vote referendum as well. This has meant the more visible presence of politicians over the recess, and has kept the issues prominently in the news.
Alongside the national elections, the Government is also trying to keep control of a rapidly escalating situation in Libya. The announcement of Liam Fox’s trip to Washington to discuss the military intervention is surely a sign that we are not going to see an end to this conflict for a while. What was promised as an intervention that would last a short amount of time is looking more and more like a long-term commitment, something which almost everyone would say we don’t want or have the resources for. The situation in Syria is also becoming extremely volatile, and there are questions beginning to emerge as to what involvement Britain should have there, if any.
Internally, the Coalition also faces a tough test. The honeymoon period was never going to last forever, and it seems as if things are beginning to unravel between the Tories and the Lib Dems. Tuition fees, NHS reforms, internships and AV are the policies grabbing the headlines, but behind the scenes there is unrest aplenty. Chris Huhne’s inflammatory comments at the weekend may be toward the extreme end of the spectrum, but they show that there is serious unrest in the Coalition. Nick Clegg’s claim that he and Cameron are “not mates” seems incredibly far removed from the press conference in the garden in Number 10 last summer, but that is a sign of how things have changed.
In the midst of all this, David Cameron needs to show some serious leadership, not just of the Coalition but of the country as well. The Prime Minister’s statement to the House of Commons to announce the intervention in Libya was statesman-like, delivered with the right amount of gravitas, severity and credibility. However since then, a lot of Cameron’s time has been spent making off-hand comments about his Liberal Democrat partners and stoking the dangerous fire that is growing under the Coalition.
At a time when the country is becoming more involved in conflicts in the Middle East, when the electorate are about to decide on the voting system of this country, and when the effects of the spending cuts and the plan to reduce the deficit are beginning to hit home, David Cameron needs to show strong leadership.
He needs to be clear about Britain’s position with Libya, how far we will go and what parameters are in place for the potential situations that could arise over the next weeks. He needs to have a plan for Syria, and that plan needs to be not only explained but stuck to. He needs to be focused not only on the elections on May 5, but on what will happen afterwards. If – as is looking likely – AV is rejected by the voters, Cameron should move on, but without giving huge concessions to the Lib Dems. They should be left to sort out their own internal misgivings and issues. If Mr Cameron gives out consolation prizes by the dozen, it will look like he is apologetic about the result of the vote, which he should not be.
One of Cameron’s strengths is his leadership. When he really shows it, he is a true leader of this country. Now is not the time for half-hearted leadership. Now is the time for Cameron to show his true colours.