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The Coalition risks breakdown if it doesn’t unite around some new big ideas

By Peter Hoskin
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RestartI’m afraid this is one of those mornings for taking stock of the Coalition. If you feel that both parties will benefit from a relatively harmonious working relationship, as I do, then it’s not looking good. Not only do we have the intra-Coalition spat of all intra-Coalition spats—the suspension, for this Parliament at least, of the boundary reforms—but there are also some other tales of Lib-Con woe floating around the papers. Nick Clegg, apparently, is eager to argue down Michael Gove’s proposals for the history curriculum. And Lord Oakeshott is agitating against David Cameron as only Lord Oakeshott can.

At times like this, I like to refer to a list I wrote last year of concessions that the Tories could make to the Lib Dems in return for their support for, say, er… boundary reform. And, looking at that list now, it stirs even more pessimism. Most—perhaps even all—of those concessions have already been pushed out of the realm of possibility, leaving David Cameron with very little leverage against his Coalition partners. There’s a dwindling amount of New Big Stuff that the Lib Dems will be permitted, which could hamper Tory efforts to achieve New Big Stuff of their own. All of it suggests that the Coalition faces atrophy.

But there is another list I wrote last summer – not of concession, but of areas of natural compromise between the Tories and the Lib Dems. And while this list also incites pessimism, insofar as the recent Midterm Review wasn’t exactly a model of renewed cooperation, it also gives cause for optimism. Much progress has already been made on one of its provisions: childcare. And the other entries aren’t really too much to ask. You can see them all by following the link above, but here’s an abridged version of the list as a reminder:
  • Political reform. Particularly, the cutting of Parliamentary perks and the reform of party fudning.
  • Civil liberties. As Dominic Raab put it, “overhauling the blunt extradition regime that hangs too many of our citizens out to dry.”
  • Transparency, spending cuts … and tax cuts? Greater cuts to Whitehall waste, spearheaded by David Laws, and with the money going towards deficit reduction and perhaps even tax cuts for low-income earners.
  • Employee ownership. Expanding on the work already done to establish mutual.

I’d probably even add another item to the list now, although it is, admittedly, much more fanciful than the others. And that is… Europe. Of course, the Conservatives are more naturally Eurosceptic than the Lib Dems, and the latter do not, as yet, agree with Mr Cameron’s proposal for an In/Out referendum – but, as I shall soon write about in more detail, there is more similarity between the views of the two party leaderships than Westminster legend might have you believe. Even now, we know that both parties will go into the next election calling for reform of the European Union. If they can work out areas of common argument now, then it will make that process even easier – and strengthen the likelihood of another Lib-Con coalition after 2015.

Like I say, expect more from me on this, shortly.


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