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Ministers Are Losing Patience With Lib Dem Blocking Tactics

Last Updated: Monday, January 20th, 2014

It was reported at the weekend that the Queen’s Speech might have to be delayed. If so, it would be a rare event, with a number of connotations for the Coalition.

The anonymous Minister quoted in the press put it down to the Prime Minister’s dissatisfaction with the proposed policy agenda. Another Conservative source blamed the Lib Dems for blocking good ideas.

It’s a bad reflection on the current state of the Government.

Amid all the fuss and fighting over AV, fixed-term parliaments were brought in with almost no debate. Now, though, we see the consequence – the Government is simply running out of things to say.

That problem is compounded by the nature of Coalition, and the breakdown of the Rose Garden consensus. While the 2010 editions of David Cameron and Nick Clegg had plenty to agree on, they have drifted apart as political reality has shifted.

While once they were each a useful bulwark for the other against the less centrist views of their own backbenches, Cameron in particular has moved closer to a small-c conservative agenda. Disagreement on the EU referendum has extended to welfare and immigration.

It is the approach of next year’s General Election which has spurred these changes.

The polling, the arrival of Lynton Crosby as his strategist and the rising threat of UKIP have all led Cameron to conclude that he must be tougher in order to defeat Miliband in 2015.

That’s undoubtedly true – but if Clegg’s response to that toughness leads to a year of paralysis, then both governing parties will be harmed by it. The election pitch will be “let us finish the job”, and it might prove unconvincing if voters can see little activity on the part of the Government.

It would be a towering irony if the election were to be lost as a result of Clegg and Cameron’s enthusiasm to win it.

We will see two approaches to overcome this logjam.

The first is a greater focus on announcing Conservative policies; essentially issuing wish-list proposals in the style more traditionally used by the Opposition. The EU referendum pledge was of course one such announcement – hence the campaign to introduce it as a Private Member’s Bill.

The second is to force Clegg’s hand by going public with proposals that he doesn’t like. That way, the Lib Dems must either choose to get on board with popular initiatives – or they will be publicly seen as the people stopping the Conservatives from getting on with the job.

Yesterday’s headlines about immigrants learning English before being given benefits were an example of just such a tactic. “The move,” the Mail on Sunday reported, “was due to be announced tomorrow, but has been delayed following a row with Nick Clegg.” Ouch.

It’s hardly the first time in the last few years that Conservatives have wished they had a majority in the House of Commons, but this seems to be a new, more combative phase of the Coalition.

Ministers have lost patience with having to take public ownership of reforms which were watered down by the Lib Dems in private. The prospect of delaying the Queen’s Speech in its entirety may well be too much for them to grin and bear.

By Mark Wallace



Harry Phibbs: Learning the right lessons from Benefits Street  ‘The main reflection from Conservatives has been to blame the system. That far from “helping” people benefits dependency ruins their lives – it traps them in poverty, distorts their moral judgments, erodes their independence and respect. The Benefits Street series has shown all this but more hearteningly has also shown evidence of the resilience of the human spirit.’

Paul Goodman: Mitchell in numbers   David Cameron must find it almost as hard to grasp all this detail as most of the rest of us.  Fortunately, he doesn’t have to.  All he needs to do is answer a question in his own mind: is Mitchell innocent?  If the answer to that question is “Yes”, justice demands that he should be restored to the Cabinet.’

Mark Wallace: What did Michael Fallon do in a past life to deserve Minister for Portsmouth? ‘Understandably, the media want to know whether there are now going to be ministers for other cities – each city has its problems, and if special ministerial attention is good for one, why should it not be good for the rest? Alternatively, if this isn’t necessary for other cities is it just a gimmick in Portsmouth? There seems to be no real answer.’

Andrew Gimson: Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Tories, has an optimistic message for colleagues around the UK  ‘The Tory cause in Scotland is not so lost as some English Conservatives fear. Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Tories, is a more formidable figure than one might guess from her youth and inexperience.  She is only 35 years old, has only belonged to the party since 2009, and was only elected to the Scottish Parliament in 2011, a few months before becoming leader.’

Paul Goodman: Let’s turn the Party into a network of local campaigning alliance  ‘Instead of trying to fight the next election as a single on-message machine, the powers-that-be should encourage candidates to display more local variety – especially when it comes to branding, messaging and election addresses.   To some degree, this is already happening: CCHQ recognises that candidates in the varied 40/40 seats won’t win by using a single template.’

Oliver Williams: Environmentalists should not allow the left to hijack our movement  ‘The environment has not always been a left-wing concern. In 1988 the journal of the Socialist Workers Party declared the environmental movement “reactionary”. The editor of the Morning Star has admitted that until recently the newspaper would “never have given the light of day” to Greens. Tony Benn once referred to environmental concerns as “the middle class expressing its dislike of the horrors of industrialization”.’

Mark Wallace: Ed Miliband’s big speech started by losing a billion pounds – and got worse   “Friends. Britain deserves better than this. The cost of living. The cost of friends. Britain. There will be a reckoning. Banks. The cost of banks. Britain deserves better than the cost of banks. Or the cost of living friends.” That’s essentially the gist of it. If there was an Ed Miliband bingo game, this was the Full House…The economy is once again eroding Labour’s narrative – having refused to apologise for their economic and fiscal mistakes, or for their false predictions of the disastrous impact of austerity, they are now simply sticking to a script regardless.’

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