John Woodcock: PM's reputation is on the line

The Lords reform rollercoaster and shock of the Libor scandal have underlined the fragility of reputations in this chaotic time for politics.

John Woodcock: PM's reputation is on the line
John Woodcock: PM's reputation is on the line

Nick Clegg's spectacular rise and fall will long serve as a warning for aspiring leaders. Some speculate that further jiggery-pokery on Lords reform could yet miraculously revive him and warn Labour against aiding that.

But Liberal Democrats do not employ sorcerers: the House of Lords is too far down the public's priority list and their leader is in a place from which few return.

No-one would yet be foolhardy enough to perform the last rites on George Osborne's political standing, but the Westminster chat about his fall from grace is widespread.

Only a few months ago the Chancellor and general election supremo was seen as the architect of David Cameron's success and likely heir to the throne. Since his disastrous Budget, he is increasingly lampooned for failing to focus sufficiently on his day job.

When your opponents' line of attack starts to gain serious traction with your own side, you know you are in trouble.

But the big question now is what will happen to Cameron's standing. While his poll ratings have already dropped substantially and attempts to portray him as a new kind of Conservative have been abandoned, Cameron has so far avoided a Clegg-esque catastrophe or Osborne-style deflation. Until now, Cameron has been insulated by his leadership tactic of letting his cabinet take the lead and if necessary soak up the blame on the big issues, while giving the odd nod and wink to reassure restless Tory backbenchers that he is on their side.

Many grudgingly admired what had looked like the Prime Minister's deft handling of a delicate coalition. But the chaos over Lords reform votes this week now makes this lightness of touch seem like a culpable failure to instil discipline in his troops.

Cameron experienced leadership rumblings when he first became Tory leader and turned it around. That memory will galvanise his optimistic supporters. Equally, it could be a warning that he was never truly accepted by key parts of his party, who could yet turn on him.

John Woodcock is Labour MP for Barrow and Furness, and a former spokesman for ex-prime minister Gordon Brown.

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