By Mark Wallace
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Now that both parties are fighting to take credit for the coalition's achievements, rather than seeking to blame each other for its impact, it seems an opportune moment to ask: who is winning the Coalition? Do the Lib Dems or the Conservatives enjoy more success in Government?
Let's tot it up, match by match, across thirteen key policy areas:
With PCCs introduced, an immigration cap in place, the concept of regional immigration limits rejected, spending cuts to the police but crime falling regardless and even the now-famous "Go Home" vans, the Home Office is a round victory for the Conservatives. The Lib Dems will be happy about the scrapping of ID cards, but it's worth remembering that this was Tory policy at the election, too.
Blues 2 - 0 Yellows
Both parties described themselves as localist in the run-up to 2010, but the plan the Government have implemented is almost entirely Eric Pickles'. Spending transparency, guaranteed referenda for council tax increases over 5 per cent and relaxed planning regulations all point to a Conservative win.
Blues 2 - 0 Yellows
It's a little hard to say how the different parties have fared in the Justice department. The failure to fulfil the Tory pledge for automatic jail sentences for carrying a knife illegally and the fact the Human Rights Act still has not been replaced by a British Bill of Rights are certainly points against the Conservatives, but they were respectively scored by Ken Clarke and a Commission set up by the Prime Minister, so count as own goals. Since he took over as Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling has been pushing ahead more productively with cuts to legal aid, reform of the courts system and a new, more accountable prison regime. The Lib Dems have had barely a look-in, but the own goals go on their tally - we can expect a better rematch later in the Parliament.
Blues 3 - 2 Yellows
The Lib Dems had a good sequence of play early on - for a while it looked like they might romp home. They certainly secured the referendum on AV which they had demanded, but then the electorate overwhelmingly rejected the plan. Lords reform briefly came onto the agenda, before being torpedoed by Tory backbench opposition. In revenge, Clegg sank the boundary reform the Conservatives desperately need to iron out structural bias in the election system. Both sides lose out - a no-score draw.
Blues 0 - 0 Yellows
It's fair to say Michael Gove has emerged victorious on almost every measure in Education. The academies scheme has been dramatically extended, Free Schools are springing up and new, more rigorous exams are in place. The flagship Lib Dem policy of the Pupil Premium has been implemented, but their promise to aboilish tuition fees has been entirely reversed.
Blues 5 - 1 Yellows
Both parties supported High Speed 2 in 2010, and despite heavy fire from all sides it remains Government policy. The Lib Dem policy of introducing road pricing has been rejected, and replaced by reductions and freezes in fuel prices, driven by Rob Halfon. Clegg and Cameron both promised that Heathrow would not be expanded, and they've got their way - with Lib Dem support for the policy helping to overwhelm any Tory suggestions it be revoked.
Blues 2 - 1 Yellows
The decision to hold a Strategic Defence Review rather partially removed this department from the realm of pure party politics early on in the parliament. However, the Lib Dems regularly boast that they have managed to delay any decision to replace Trident until at least 2015, while the Conservatives have successfully slimmed down the MoD's size and balanced its budget for the first time in years. A score draw.
Blues 1 - 1 Yellows
Energy and Environment
Chris Huhne, and later Ed Davey, have dominated these policy fields from DECC until Owen Paterson gave DEFRA more Tory bite in the last year. The Green Deal is in place (and splashing money everywhere), wind farms are still going ahead despite the Tories wishing to implement a moratorium and the Green Investment Bank has got the go-ahead. Shale gas has now been given the green light, but only after lengthy delays thanks to Lib Dem opposition.
Blues 1 - Yellows 5
Tax and Spend
Both parties agreed on the need for austerity after the Brown years, but we should note that the Lib Dem manifesto proposed £15 billion of spending cuts, delayed until 2011-12. Austerity has been larger than that, and began immediately. While Clegg and Alexander's presence in the Quad has certainly reduced the fiscal tightening somewhat, Government policy looks closer to Osborne's position than theirs.
On tax, it's a different story. The 50p rate is gone, but it is now 45p rather than the 40p many Tories would have preferred. The income tax threshold is rising to £10,000, following a Lib Dem manifesto pledge - though it's not a policy many Conservatives are uncomfortable about. It's fair to say Osborne's enthusiasm for tax cuts (for example on Inheritance Tax) has been sizeably hindered by his coalition partners.
Goals for each side, but level pegging so far.
Blues 2 - Yellows 2
Like Eric Pickles, Iain Duncan Smith went into the 2010 election with a coherent plan and a deep personal dedication to his brief. As a result, he's got his way on the bulk of his proposals. The two parties have collaborated to protect the Universal Credit scheme from Treasury attempts to axe it or scale it back. It says a lot that the Lib Dems' main impact on the DWP has been to veto IDS' offers to make even more savings from his budget.
Blues 2 - Yellows 1
Business and Banks
Vince Cable has long touted his Department as the heartland of Lib Dem opposition to Conservative leadership of the coalition. He's certainly managed to get the Government to adopt his industrial strategy, and blocked the Beecroft reforms to workplace regulation. But he has also had to accept the abolition of the Regional Development Agencies and the Conservative-driven cuts to red tape. The decider is the Government's decision to accept the Lib Dem policy to break up the banks.
Blues 2 - Yellows 3
To say the Health and Social Care Act proved controversial is an understatement. Various of the policies within it are drawn from the Conservative 2010 manifesto, although Lib Dem opposition forced the Government into a "listening period" and resulted in several changes to the legislation.
Blues 2 - Yellows 1
This always seemed likely to be the sticking point of the Coalition. Clegg has prevented Cameron from offering an earlier referendum, and the Conservatives have been forced to use a Private Member's Bill to pursue their policy post-2015. However, the Lib Dems so far have been too afraid of public opinion to vote against the Wharton Bill, resorting to wrecking attempts in the Committees. The In/Out referendum is on the way, but Yellow blocking tactics have left the Blues open to attack by UKIP.
Blues 1 - Yellows 2
Scores so far
Here are the overall scores from the first half of the Parliamentary season. Of 13 matches, there have been 7 Blue victories, 3 Yellow wins and 3 draws. 25 goals for the Conservatives and 19 for the Liberal Democrats leaves the goal difference at +6 for the Blue team.
The contest is only going to become more hotly contested - as can be seen by Nick Clegg's attempt to take the credit for Rob Halfon's ideas today - so we will continue to watch every match and report back.
By Andrew Gimson
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At the heart of government, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats get on surprisingly well. Nothing the Lib Dems have said or done in Glasgow has forced a revision of this view.
It is true that Vince Cable set out to be rude about the Conservatives: “We’ve got dog-whistle politics orchestrated by an Australian Rottweiler.”
But what else does one expect from Mr Cable? It would be much more worrying if he managed to suppress his anti-Antipodean prejudices, stopped playing to the Lib Dem activist gallery and instead expressed his complete approval of everything done by David Cameron and George Osborne.
When asked if he would ever quit the coalition, the canny Mr Cable replied: “I think President Obama has just proven very eloquently in recent weeks the danger of parading your red lines in public.”
So it seems Mr Cable is determined not to back himself into a position where he feels obliged to take action instead of striking attitudes.
By Mark Wallace
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Neither the woolly jumpers and sandals, the bleeding heart greenery nor Nick Clegg's confession that he "cries to music" would sit comfortably at the Den. By the same token, Milwall's famous chant, "No-one likes us, we don't care", would never make it into the songbook at the annual Glee Club held at Lib Dem conference.
The first clause might be acceptable, given that the Coalition's minor party still lag behind UKIP and regularly dip below 10 per cent in the polls. It's the second half that they struggle with.
The crippling problem for the Liberal Democrats is that they do care about their unpopularity - and they care very strongly.
It's a symptom of being the all-things-to-all-men third party for so long. Coherent principles may never have been their burden to carry, but being the "nice" party certainly was. Consciously or not, they enjoyed the warm feeling of being able to promise whatever made people like them without the hangover from actually having to implement anything.
They were Parliament's conscience, or so they thought, without realising that a conscience is only meaningful if you have to use it in practice on difficult decisions.
That's why the last three years have been such an uncomfortable shock for many Liberal Democrats. They decided to live up to their promise that they were a serious party of Government by entering coalition when the country needed stability - which is to their credit. But the party had not fully come to terms with what was actually involved.
I wrote yesterday that it is perhaps surprising not to see the economy or tax in the top five issues raised by respondents to our "red lines" poll. It's therefore necessary to say today that an economic issue came in sixth. On a scale of one to ten, in which one represents "very negotiable" and ten "non-negotiable", the statement "the structural deficit should be eliminated by 2017/2018, if not sooner" scored a eight - coming in only a fraction behind those top five issues - an In/Out EU referendum and renegotation; the reduction and equalisation of constituencies; keeping or lowering the benefits cap; keeping or lowering the immigration cap and pressing ahead with the development of shale gas.
Here are the remaining scores of economy and tax-related issues:
There are in some cases only marginal differences between the scores, so it follows that not too much should be read into them. However, it's worth noting that the proposal for the restoration of the 10p income tax band, supported on this site by Robert Halfon and opposed by Andrew Lilico comes in bottom of this list.
I reported yesterday that the top "red line" for Conservative Party members for any coalition negotiations with the Liberal Democrats after the 2015 election is holding the In/Out EU referendum in 2017 - after the promised renegotiation.
If these commitments are treated as one, the next four red lines in our members' poll came in as follows. On a scale of one to ten, with one representing "very negotiable" and ten representing "non negotiable", all came in at eight, with very marginal differences beween them, as follows:
I am not at all sure that the reduction and equalisation of seats will be in the Tory manifesto, given events in this Parliament, but the priority which members give to the move reflects their frustration and anger with how the Liberal Democrats behaved.
The benefits and immigration caps are popular with members as well as voters, and their ranking reflects that. There is unabashed enthusiasm for shale. It's perhaps surprising not to see the economy or tax in the top five issues. We will turn to them tomorrow.
By Paul Goodman
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Utterly unsurprisingly, holding the promised In/Out EU referendum in 2015 was the top "red line" issue for any future Conservative/Liberal Democrat negotiations in our survey which over 800 Conservative Party members answered. We asked respondents to list a series of issues on a scale of one to ten, with one representing "very negotiable" and ten representing "non negotiable". Both "In-Out referendum on Britain's EU membership in 2017" and "Attempt to renegotiate Britain's relationship with the EU" came in at 8.5.
"Britain should leave the ECHR" scored seven. I suspect that party members' priorities are the other way round in this respect from voters, given the public reaction to the Court's "votes for prisoners" rulings. (Policy Exchange's research in Northern Lights, which looked at a series of wedge issues, found 70 per cent of respondents believing that "human rights have become a charter for the criminals and undeserving".) Six per cent believe that a British Bill of Rights should be introduced.
Turning to the Commons, Britain's relationship with Europe is clearly a very significant issue for Conservative MPs, as the history of rebellions in this Parliament confirms and as Philip Cowley and Mark Stuart suggested on this site in May. It's impossible to know what their view would be of any proposal to re-form the Coalition with the Liberal Democrats, but my best guess is that David Cameron would find it impossible to drop the 2017 referendum (presuming he wished to) - because Tory MPs' views on holding it are not all that different from Party members'.
Recent opinion polls written up by Anthony Wells of YouGov show the Conservatives at 34, 33 and 33 per cent, and Labour at 38, 37 and 37 per cent. Let's apply three conclusions. First, neither of the main parties is in a strong position. Second, David Cameron has closed the gap on Ed Miliband, and may well close it further if economic recovery continues. Third, the former has to get anywhere between ten to seven points ahead of the latter to win a majority, thanks to Britain's vote distribution - unless you buy Peter Kellner's imaginary scenario of a disproportionately good result for the Conservatives in key marginals.
In short, prudent Tories shouldn't rule out the possibility - to put it no higher - of the next election producing much the same result as the last one, and thus think ahead. What should the Party do in such an event? Should it take a different road from that taken in 2010, and urge the formation of a Conservative minority government? Should it seek to come to a deal with one or more of the minor parties, such as Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionists? Or should it follow the same path as last time, and seek to re-form the Coalition with the Liberal Democrats? And if it makes the last choice, what should Cameron's "red lines" be?
By Peter Hoskin
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One of the most intriguing political stories in today’s papers is tucked away on page 19 of the Guardian. Apparently, the Government is going to do more to “name and shame” those employers who do not pay the minimum wage. According to Jo Swinson, who announced the measure yesterday, “this gives a clear warning to rogue employers who ignore the rules that they will face reputational consequences as well as a fine if they don't pay the minimum wage.”
Why so intriguing? Because it goes against the grain of what other ministers have been saying, and doing, about the minimum wage. As I reported back in April, the Government has changed the remit of the Commission that sets the level of the wage, so that it does so “without damaging employment or the economy” – a directive that raises the possibility of future freezes or cuts. And, as I revealed in March last year, ideas such as regionalising the minimum wage, or even suspending it for young people, have been floating around Downing Street since 2010. None of this may be incompatible with tougher policing of companies, but there’s certainly a friction between the policies.
Ed Miliband has broken all the conventional rules of opposition: neutralise your Party's weaknesses, work hard early to make an impression on the electorate, appeal to floating voters. These rules are far from being perfect or complete, but Labour's leader has done himself no good by breaking them. He has got himself up a gum tree, and has no idea how to climb down. His dismal summer continues today with a poll in the Daily Mirror, which finds that a third of Labour voters believe he should quit. His strategy seems to be to get the party's vote up to about 36 per cent by adding anti-austerity voters to Labour's core supporters. This is the opposite of Tony Blair's plan to build the biggest electoral tent possible - one that won him three successive elections. Looking at Miliband, the question is: where's the ambition?
The same question could not be asked, for roughly the first half of this Parliament, of David Cameron. Having failed to win a majority in 2010, he immediately set about creating the conditions for one in 2015 - which, furthermore, would make it more likely for him then to win further terms in office. The core of his plan was to cull the electoral advantage that Labour gains from the distribution of the vote. The means of effecting it was to reduce the number of MPs, a reform which would have brought with it the public benefit of cutting the costs of politics. A deal was struck with the Liberal Democrats whereby they would support the move if the Conservatives backed a referendum on AV. Readers of this site know what followed: the latter delivered their side of the bargain, and the former did not. Ever since Cameron's scheme failed, the question for him has been: what's the plan now - that is, the plan to deliver a Tory majority?