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Hackgate: notes on political crises

Westland didn’t bring down Thatcher, Major took on the Maastricht Bastards and lived. Not even the combination of illegal war against Iraq, the Kelly suicide and cash for peerages was enough to force Blair to quit. Prime ministers, it seems, invariably ride out a little local difficulty.

I do not see anything in either the extent or the seriousness of Hackgate that leads inexorably to the conclusion that the Coalition is on the point of imminent collapse. Blog posts and newspaper columns from both the more impressionable variety of younger leftist and diehard Tory rightwingers who never had much time for Cameron anyway should probably be disregarded.

The British electorate repeatedly demonstrates a surprising willingness to forgive and forget. Remember the MPs’ expenses scandal, when it was widely suggested that the next parliament would be chock-a-block with the likes of Esther Rantzen and Simon Heffer, elected on independent tickets? It never happened, of course.

Governments don’t just topple. Sometimes in the past they have been pushed, not least by organised labour, as Heath and Callaghan found out. But given the current weakness of British trade unions, there is neither a conscious strategy to achieve that, or even much prospect of blundering into such a scenario by accident.

Nor should it be forgotten that the combined Conservative and Lib Dem opinion poll showing still equals or outstrips Labour’s. This government clearly has a social base that is fully convinced about the need for austerity, from which it derives democratic legitimacy. If the left is serious about expediting Cameron’s downfall, it needs to start winning the wider argument as to why it should go.

It is a useful heuristic that nothing in politics is ever more than 80% certain, so it is not inconceivable that some yet-to-be-revealed factor will leave all existing bets off. As Ms Brooks warned NotW staff as she was sacking them, there may be a lot more to come.

But my best guess would be that at a time of year when the political classes are packing their bags for Tuscany, the holiday season will defuse the situation. We’ll see if this one still dominates the front pages in September.

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