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Tories in Trouble: The Week of Weakness

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It's a journalistic cliché, but it's safe to say we have just witnessed the government's worst week so far. What made it so significant was that it was the Conservatives that bore the brunt of the crises, not the Liberal Democrats. Whilst he hung with Obama in South Korea, there was no chance of Clegg taking a clobbering this time.

Even without the investigative work of The Sunday Times or the public blunders of various cabinet members, the Tories would have still been struggling to control the budget reaction. As it turns out, if you cut the top rate of tax and a pensioner's personal allowance within the same parliamentary statement, the following day's press isn't going to be great. The commentators tore apart the government's "all in this together" mantra, and the front pages were hardly kind to Dave and George.

This was to be the least of their worries, though. Last Sunday, secret filming revealed the Conservative Party co-treasurer offering government influence for the measly sum of £250,000. A bit of dosh for a Downing Street dinner. Quite lot of cash for Cameron. Hundreds of thousands of pounds for (allegedly) political sway. What a bargain.

Before the donor story blew over, the budget backlash returned, fiercer than ever. It seems that a government can privatise the NHS, raise student fees and tax pensioners with relative ease. However, when they propose a price jump for hot pastries, things really kick off. Britain answered North Africa's "Arab Spring" with a "Greggs Revolution".

Things only went from bad to worse. When covering a sensitive issue, "strong but subtle" is widely accepted to be the best approach. However, the government's response to the potential fuel strikes was weak, bewildering and controversial. What's more, it could not have been less subtle. Imagine an angry bull in a very delicate china shop. The shambolic public response by Downing Street did not provide the calm and collected leadership needed on the eve of such a large-scale prospective domestic dilemma.

To say the government confused the matter is an understatement. The episode of Borgen I tried to watch without subtitles was easier to comprehend than the contradictory briefings issued by five different ministers. First it was fill up and stock up, then just fill up, then fill up slightly, then don't fill up, then fill up if you can, and now we're being told not to bother again.

Right now, we're heading towards a fuel shortage crisis due to people fearing heading towards a fuel shortage crisis. Although unlikely, the tanker drivers may not even strike. If they don't, they've gained all the attention they would get from a large-scale disruption, without doing so. On Monday, they will battle from the high ground at the negotiations table. The government only has itself to blame for this.

It's irresponsible to approach an issue that will affect so many people to such a drastic extent from a political angle. This is where the government went so badly wrong.
However, all of this is extremely significant when looking at the bigger picture in Westminster.

The majority of these mishaps will probably be forgotten by time people vote in the next General Election. Scandals come and go as time ticks on. What will be remembered, though, is the general reputation of the Conservative Party. Up until now, they've cut public spending, bickered over Europe and cosied up to newspaper proprietors. Nevertheless, before last weekend, with an opposition still yet to gain enough momentum and a struggling coalition partner, the Tories were still riding high.

The Cameron ministry is now blighted by the gravest of political injuries; an incompetent image. Downing Street has simply not been in control. The electorate could see this, and the Conservatives are paying the price for that. Opinion polls are showing Labour now has the largest lead over the Tories since David Cameron won the leadership of his party in 2005.

The fight back begins right now, as government big-wigs deal with the reality of cash-deprived pensioners, fuel-deprived drivers, and a cheap pasty-deprived population. After tumultuous week in Westminster, the Prime Minister will certainly not be deprived of his fair share of challenges over the coming days.