Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Mike Robb

GET UPDATES FROM Mike Robb
 

An Unhappy Marriage of Convenience?

Posted: 07/01/2013 17:07

The locations chosen for the three main Coalition love-ins since it came to power paint an uncannily realistic portrait of the government's development to date.

Back in May 2010 we had the happy-clappy session in the Downing Street Rose Garden. Two years on, in May last year, the wider economic backdrop was one of lingering growth and missed targets, so the stage was set at a working factory in Basildon. And now, bang on the mid-point of this Parliament, the dark and damp weather outside rendered the Rose Garden a distant memory, with the inner-sanctum of Downing Street providing the set for Act Three.

The prime minister painted a picture of Britain in a global race and an "hour of reckoning", saying that if we wanted to succeed the government must make the tough calls and fix the nation's finances. Nick Clegg, too, reiterated the fact that the damage done to the economy before the Coalition came to power was far deeper than anyone expected, but said that the economy was healing.

David Cameron's wider list of achievements was long and, on the face of it, impressive. The deficit cut by a quarter; economic rebalancing; a million new private sector jobs; exports up, and by more than 25 percent to the BRICS; Britain becoming a net exporter of cars for the first time since 1976; a cap on benefits; and 5,000 more doctors with, conversely, 6,500 fewer NHS managers.

The PM even pointed to tuition fees as a major achievement that has "enabled anyone to go to university, irrespective of their background". Sadly, the cameras didn't show the Deputy Prime Minister's face as he said it.

Yet despite all this progress enthusiastically outlined by the prime minister, his Lib Dem deputy, Nick Clegg, seemed resigned, tired and frustrated. Particularly with the Labour Party - "time for the Opposition to stop being in Opposition for Opposition's sake", he snapped - but equally with some of the progress, or lack thereof, with the Liberal Democrat priorities within the Coalition.

Yes, he was happy with some headline issues - taking millions of people out of tax altogether, the pupil premium and a stronger state pension, but he was widely defensive throughout. His response on the Boundary Review was perhaps the most telling in that regard, where he went eye-for-an-eye, saying he wanted it scrapped, owing to the scuppering of Lords reform - a core plank of the Lib Dem's platform in Coalition - by rebellious Conservative backbenchers.

Looking forward, today's re-launch didn't tell us a huge amount. We were promised action on childcare support, support for first-time buyers and, yet again, greater investment in infrastructure - notably the reconfirming of the Government's commitment to HS2, as well as the drive to increase private sector investment in the road network. But detail remains largely absent, with more to be dripped out between now and the Budget in April.

Today was very much a show to re-emphasise that the Coalition will last the course to 2015 despite obvious differences within it. Fracture is a clear market concern, and one identified by a Cicero report as the major political risk in the UK during 2013. That report pointed at "irreconcilable differences on the economy and Europe" as major concerns for the 12 months ahead, less prevalent during the Coalition's time in Government thus far.

And today's resignation of Lord Strathclyde, reportedly owing to the unworkable relationship between the Coalition parties in the second chamber, paints a clear picture that all is not well.

Ultimately, without positive economic growth (and quickly) we could see real tension within both the Coalition leadership and its backbench foot soldiers. The ever-increasing prominence of Europe, UKIP, a referendum and next year's European elections will leave little cheer for Nick Clegg, and other political bones will need to be thrown if the unhappy marriage of convenience is to go the distance.

 

Follow Mike Robb on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mikerobb

FOLLOW UK POLITICS