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David Laws steps in as the coalition’s marriage counsellor

By Peter Hoskin
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House magazineWith impeccable timing, the House magazine has interviewed David Laws for its latest issue. You’d think that the man who almost came to personify the Coalition in its early days would have a few things to say about the state of things now — and it turns out he does. On Lords reform, for instance, he emphasises that this was a very uncontroversial part of the original negotiations between the two parties (“it’s something, by my recollection, that we agreed in a few minutes of discussion”). And he adds that, “If one party, be it the Lib Dems or the Conservatives, started not delivering pledges in the coalition agreement, then that will obviously be something that would be a de-stabilizing and a very negative development.”

But what comes across most of all, from the quotations I’ve seen, is Laws’ commitment to the coalition — and to keeping it going. And it’s not just his full-throated claim that ‘I’m obsessed about the coalition working’, either. He lambasts the idea of the Lib Dems withdrawing their ministers before the next election; he admits that he might have left his party had they not proved they were serious about governing; he warns against excessive differentiation, from both sides, before 2015; he praises the original Coalition Agreement as ‘fantastically ambitious’; and he emphasises the importance of spending cuts (alongside further Quantitative Easing and a bit more ‘investment spending’ where possible, which is more or less the government’s official position as well).

Basically, a slight dig at the Tories’ modernising efforts apart, this interview has a stronger whiff of the Rose Garden about it than any other for months. And it puts you in mind of our columnist Andrew Lilico’s point earlier: that the Coalition’s best hope of lasting until 2015 is if the pro-Coalition Lib Dems split off from their party and take things from there. Certainly, Laws would find it much easier to remain in government until 2015 — and would probably do a better job — than most of his party comrades.

The survival of the coalition even factors into Laws’s thinking about the next Spending Review. As I said this morning, I think that this review should arrive next year, mostly so that the machinery of government can properly wire itself for more cuts after the election. But Laws reckons that some deferment might actually be wise:
‘How much further we go into the next Parliament and [in] how much detail is, I think, something which Nick and David Cameron have yet to fix, and need to mull in the light of the conflicting pressures… to have long term economic plans, which is something the markets find attractive, but on the other hand not to have economic plans that go too far into the next Parliament, given that both parties are going be fighting the next election on independent manifestos and can’t do that if our economic policy is in lockstep for too far into the next Parliament.’

Whichever way you look at it, the former minister is right about one thing, even if he only hints at it: the Spending Review has the potential to throw up all shades of political difficulty for the Coalition.


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