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With every passing day the Liberal Democrats are dragging the Coalition further away from the Conservative manifesto

By Tim Montgomerie
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Who's right about the Coalition? Has David 'Vinnie Jones' Cameron got Nick 'Paul Gascoigne' Clegg by the balls, as Banksy suggests? Or, as The Spectator argues this morning, is it the Liberal Democrat leader who is pouring paint over the Conservative leader?

Of course there's sometimes a bit of both but I'd contend that there's more than enough evidence for my theory that, over time, it's been the Liberal Democrats who are increasingly flexing their 9%-sized muscles and pulling the government leftwards (my theory of this Coalition). Take this morning where we have three clear examples of the Liberal Democrats having a big influence...

(1) Human rights laws: We have Nick Clegg in The Guardian arguing that the human rights laws are essentially sound: "I will refuse to let human rights laws be weakened". Cameron's promise to Sunday Express readers looks impossible for him to meet.

Screen shot 2011-08-26 at 08.30.34 (2) £1.8 billion of new regulations: Leading The Telegraph is the story that Vince Cable has agreed to "a controversial European directive to give agency workers the same rights as full-time employees of British companies." The cost will be £1.8 billion per year for British business. Yes, £1.8 billion.

(3) Control of immigration: And then, thirdly, we have immigration policy. You'll see from today's ConHome newslinks that the big four centre right newspapers all agree that the Coalition is unlikely to fulfil Cameron's promise to reduce net immigration from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands. At every turn the Lib Dems have frustrated Damian Green and Theresa May's efforts. This is the number two issue for voters and failure on this pledge won't easily be forgiven. Cameron deserves enormous credit for the Libya campaign but foreign policy triumphs don't win elections. Just ask Barack Obama whose bounce after the killing of Osama bin Laden is a distant memory. Bread and butter issues like immigration and, above all else, the economy are where the PM must deliver.

The seven other areas of major Lib Dem influence are, I'd suggest...

(4) Green policies. Certainly if George Osborne had had his way the climate change measures announced by Chris Huhne would be a lot less costly to businesses. Reducing Britain's carbon footprint is the lowest priority of the new generation of Conservative MPs but the arithmetic of the Coalition has tipped the balance in favour of unilateral action on global warming. Huhne may be unpopular with Tory activists but I'd suggest he was one of the government's most effective ministers.

(5) Opposition to growth measures. The green agenda is anti-growth but the Lib Dems on CGT and employment law reform have also had negative effects.

(6) Even loading of the public spending cuts. The Chancellor hoped to frontload the spending cuts as Eric Pickles has done in local government. The Lib Dems said no - meaning pain is spread across the parliament. This has delayed the necessary fiscal adjustment and reduced the scope for economy-boosting tax relief. It also means politically tricky cuts as deep as year one will be necessary in the run up to the election.

(7) Opposition to renegotiation with Europe. Even if a renegotiation opportunity occurs the chances of Britain winning a very different relationship with Brussels are likely to be vetoed by Britain's most pro-EU party. Clegg's reward, says the latest edition of Prospect magazine, will be getting Cameron to nominate him as Britain's next EU Commissioner.

(8) Thwarting of the NHS reforms. This is a process that isn't over yet. Baroness Shirley Williams and other members of the Lords may yet further dilute Andrew Lansley's reforms.

(9) Nothing serious is happening on family policy. There are three weapons in the battle against poverty: strong families, good schools and work. The Lib Dems are resisting nearly all pro-family measures. Sarah Teather within Michael Gove's department is the leading obstacle. Sadly Mr Gove has become her leading defender and a leading opponent of another department taking over family policy; reversing his pre-election position that his department should focus only on education.

(10) The dog's breakfast of tuition fees. Charles Moore has documented how repeated concessions to the Liberal Democrats mean the policy has ended up satisfying noone - not students, not universities, not the Treasury.


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