Is the coalition cracking? Not a chance

The recent row over Europe has caused a rift straight through the Coalition and the Cabinet. It is a testament to its strength that there is almost no risk of it falling

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Cameron and Clegg have their differences, but the coalition government is surviving
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Charlotte Henry
On 19 December 2011 10:43

The recent row over Europe has caused a rift straight through the Coalition and the Cabinet.

It is a testament to its strength that there is almost no risk of it falling.

The coalition is based on a strong programme for government, and solid parliamentary arithmetic. Perhaps most importantly, it is still based on mutual need, as despite rising Conservative poll ratings, it suits neither party to pull the plug and force an election.

The Government came together to undertake an economic recovery mission, and it is pertinently clear that that has not yet been completed.

Liberal Democrat Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne hit the nail on the head on Friday when he told the London Evening Standard that this key economic mission, which binds the coalition, was as "compelling as ever".

Even the most consistently (and irritatingly,) dissenting Lib Dem Cabinet voices, Vince Cable and Chris Huhne, are acutely aware of the responsibility that they have as part of a government that has to fix the monumental mess left by Labour. Indeed, the Business Secretary confirmed this on Marr on Sunday morning.

The thing that nobody tells you is this - two parties coming to work together in Government may actually be stronger than one party governing on its own. It might take compromise to make policy, but once arrived at such decisions it will have a much broader backing.

I frequently make the point to people who falsely claim ‘nobody voted for this’ that actually the coalition is one of the only governments in recent time that was elected with over 50 percent electoral support!

Here’s another thing nobody tells you – not every Lib Dem activist is crying themselves to sleep at night, mourning the death of their party. Indeed, some of us are very proud about the liberalism we can implement in government, and pleased about the move away from the brand of soggy socialism that still misguidedly thinks it is at the core of the party’s thinking. While there are still enough modernising Conservative voices, the combination of such grassroots support puts the government on good foundations.

The other thing that gives the coalition some strength, the elephant in the room, is that Labour really, really doesn’t want the government to fall and to have to fight an election. Not only are they broke, they have little or no economic credibility, and a weak leader that the majority of the public do not consider fit to be Prime Minister. Labour strategists and parliamentarians are acutely aware of this, and it is a key card in the coalition’s hand.

That said, the Coalition now needs to display this strength by being brave, and radically reforming, liberalising and opening up the society in which we live. And it is the Liberal Democrats who I want to see having the guts to drive that agenda forward.

The Tory obsession with Europe was always destined to cause this particular government a problem. Nothing seems to exercise the party’s backbenches more than having a pop at the French; and a French/German double hit was just too much for Carswell and company to resist.

As occurred with AV, the parties fundamentally disagree, but the Government continues on, and must not be thrown off its course by right-wing ranting.

However, before us Lib Dems get too pleased with ourselves, we too risk looking like we care more about installing political pet projects than transforming society. Again, Browne said as much when he told the Standard that it “would be a mistake for the Lib Dems to come to be known in the public minds as the party that in 2011 was the party that was in favour of AV and EU."

While I understand why Cameron and Clegg want to differentiate themselves - they are leaders of two different parties - public rows like the one over Europe, AV or marriage tax breaks are an unnecessary diversion. They make us talk about process not policy, and undoubtedly are to the detriment of the government.

I am pleased that Nick Clegg and his Cabinet colleagues are blocking nonsense marriage taxes, and trying to encourage a pro-active relationship with Europe, but I don’t need to see the Government airing its dirty linen in public. There would be no greater sign of weakness than the two parties continually trying to act as a brake on each other, as they would be able to achieve little else. 

With policies such as the lifting of the income tax threshold, the pupil premium, rises in pensions payments, and restoring civil liberties, the government has proved throughout the last 18 months that it has the strength to work together and produce policies that take the country in the right direction.

Hopefully, after the Christmas break, everyone will have calmed down and it can continue to do so until 2015.

Charlotte Henry blogs at http://www.digitalpolitico.net. You can follow her on twitter at @charlotteahenry

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