Analysis: Half-term report: Must do better to win votes

David Cameron, right, and Nick Clegg. Picture: PA
David Cameron, right, and Nick Clegg. Picture: PA
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Generally speaking, successful governments do not require relaunches, for political success should speak for itself. Relaunching anything gives the impression it wasn’t properly packaged in the first place.

Of course, the coalition did not term yesterday’s theatrics as a “relaunch”, rather it was presented as a “mid-term review”, thus implying the government is big enough to take stock half way through its term in office.

It emphasised the bigger picture over minor disagreements. “On the things that matter most,” argued a foreword, “our resolve and sense of shared purpose have, if anything, grown over time.”

Indeed, tackling the deficit remains the glue that binds the coalition together, even though most of its targets will not, by the Treasury’s own admission, be met. A lot of other pledges also won’t reach fruition until after the next general election.

So how effective has the government been since those five heady days in May 2010? The balance sheet is, of course, mixed. In presentational terms, the Prime Minister and his Liberal Democrat deputy still get along well, although the mutual appreciation has faded.

But in policy terms, the coalition still “owns” the economic narrative. Labour has failed to land any serious blows.

Beyond that, the governing parties have suffered from ill-defined aims. Unrealistically high expectations have been invested in Michael Gove’s school reforms and Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare revolution.

In terms of Scotland, both coalition parties remain weak, yet strategically 2012 was a good year for the UK government, easily winning what some Nationalists have dubbed the “year of process”, particularly on the referendum.

So the coalition cannot be termed dysfunctional (yet), but nor is it all sweetness and light. Behind the bonhomie of Messrs Cameron and Clegg, an alternative picture is emerging, that of “differentiation” ahead of the 2015 election.

But even that will be carefully choreographed. Lib Dems quickly wised up to how ruthless the so-called natural party of government could be. Whether the next two and a half years is enough time to turn “differentiation” into votes is, of course, another matter.

• David Torrance is a political commentator.