David Maddox: A strange coalition conundrum
THE question that is being increasingly asked in Westminster is whether we really have a coalition government any more? The answer increasingly appears to be no. In effect, what we have is a “confidence and supply” agreement with added ministerial salaries for the smaller party.
Back in May 2010, there clearly was a coalition with a formal agreement and quite a radical agenda on welfare, economic, political, health, education and social reform. The two party leaderships generally sang from the same hymn sheet and the only discordant notes came from the out of tune back-benches. But in probably the biggest set piece political week of 2013, with the decision on press regulation followed by the Budget, the parties are not only not singing from the same sheet but also appear to have thrown the hymn book away.
Business Secretary Vince Cable is going around openly touting an alternative economic policy that is more akin to the Labour opposition’s stance than the government’s policy.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg barely makes a speech these days without attacking his Tory partners as untrustworthy, unfair and generally bad for the country.
In terms of the leaderships of the two parties, oddly it is the Lib Dems who have most fallen out of love with coalition, not the Tories. Strange, because for decades the Lib Dems have been telling everyone that coalition government is the only way to do things and have actually been trying to change the electoral system to guarantee it would happen.
The Lib Dems may point to the House of Lords vote where Tory back-bench rebels effectively blocked reform as the turning point. Yet, reforming the Lords was not part of the coalition agreement. What was part of the coalition agreement was to change the boundaries so Commons seats would be an equal size and reduced by 50 to 600, which the Lib Dems reneged upon.
The stark differences over press regulation also highlight the growing gulf between the two parties. Meanwhile, the Lib Dems are showing signs of backing off on welfare reform – as they have done already some parts of education and health reform in England.
The Tories are not complete innocents in all this. The Conservatives have at times shown contempt for their partners, for example when Prime Minister David Cameron wielded the veto in Europe and did not properly consult Mr Clegg.
However, no Conservative Cabinet member has a speech openly attacking the Lib Dems in the way that Mr Clegg and other senior members of his party now regularly attack the Tories.
With more than two years still to go of this government, the way the coalition is conducting itself is giving coalitions a bad name and, strangely, it is the Lib Dems, the party which has most to gain from coalitions, who are doing most of the damage.
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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