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Cameron should stop worrying about Clegg and start governing

Tim Montgomerie

Today's column by Benedict Brogan in The Telegraph is worth its weight in gold. Almost every paragraph contains an important insight into the mounting challenges facing the government... Brogan notes chaos in Government correspondence departments with civil servants producing letters of "illiterate" quality... He talks of a further "souring" of relations with civil servants since Cameron's description of much of Whitehall as "enemies of enterprise"... The wrong junior ministers (especially in the Health and Education Departments) and Special Advisers... Another excellent chef (Patrick Rock) is added to the Downing Street kitchen cabinet but, asks Brogan, is the broth now spoilt by a lack of a strategic chef-in-charge...? Read the full column.

Ben Brogan argues that Cameron's problems stem, ultimately, from the fact that he didn't win the General Election. "He is in power, but he is not a winner," Brogan writes. "He is incomplete, and this shapes how his MPs and the Whitehall machine see him." The defeat also drives Cameron's number one obsession: Keeping Nick Clegg Happy. Nothing else comes close for Cameron. The results include unhappy right-wing newspapers. Unhappy Tory backbenchers. Policy u-turns that are leading Cabinet ministers to think of Number 10 as "the soft centre". Gove, Spelman and Lansley have all had policies agreed by Downing Street and seen those agreements ripped up. Every minister I've spoken to in recent days feels Lansley has been badly served by Downing Street. They all agree that the Health Secretary hasn't been a good public defender of his reforms but Clegg and Cameron signed the introduction to the NHS White Paper. Ministers are beginning to wonder if Downing Street's word can be trusted and feel they need to organise among themselves so they aren't picked off one-by-one.

I think Downing Street understands that on its three central missions - deficit reduction, welfare reform and education - there can be no u-turnery. But it also needs to understand that Nick Clegg is big and ugly enough to look after himself. Of course the Liberal Democrat leader deserves courtesy and involvement in everything the Coalition government does but Cameron shouldn't allow the Deputy PM to constantly revisit decisions (whether it's the NHS reforms or, in recent days, the EMA, or immigration). The Coalition bears the heavy imprint of Liberal Democracy and on Europe, defence, law and order and the family it's far from the government that mainstream Conservatives waited thirteen years for.

Clegg has nowhere to go. He has little bargaining power. If he walks out of government, triggering an election his party would face annihilation. He, like every Liberal Democrat and Conservative, has to make this government work. At the moment his anxieties are undermining it at every turn. Cameron needs to tell Clegg to "man up" and turn his attention to an increasingly hostile Fleet Street and to a Whitehall machine that is not the Rolls Royce operation he needs it to be.


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