Wednesday, 18 August 2010

100 Days... and counting?

In the immediate aftermath of the coalition agreement, I wrote that I thought the Tory-Lib Dem partnership was liable to continue for some time - a period of years, not weeks or months.  I based that partly on the things that the Lib Dems had gotten out of the coalition (including practically half their parliamentary party in various government roles and some minor policy implementation) but also the weakness of the Labour party.

The latter part of that equation hasn't really changed in the last 100 days - Labour in no way look like a party of government in waiting - but the first part... well, there may be some movement.

I said at the time that the Lib Dem Cabinet appointments far outweighed what they were getting in terms of policy commitments.  I think that has borne out. Fixed term parliaments are likely to pass - something the Tories were happy about anyway, ditto ditching the "Mansion Tax" and inheritance tax - while they managed to get agreement to move the threshold for income tax up.  They've also got movement on Calman which, though I think it amounts to bugger all in the way of furthering devolved powers, it is an indication that the government recognises devolution - and more so that the Lib Dems are the ones pushing it.  

However, the pills they have had to swallow I think far outweigh what they've gotten out of it.  Being less pro-Euro, accepting a referendum for further transfer of power up to the EU, capping non-EU immigration (incredibly liberal that one) and, the biggie, accepting a referendum on AV.

Let me consider that last one for a second.  The Lib Dems condition of entering coalition was changing the electoral system to something more proportional.  What they've got is a commitment to hold a referendum on AV - an electoral system which is marginally (at best) better than FPTP in terms of making sure at least 50% of the electorate vote for a candidate.  And they'll be the only ones campaigning hard for it - especially given its apparent scheduling on the same day as devolved elections in Scotland and Wales.  The Tories are against it, as are Labour.  The "smaller" parties (at UK level) are grudgingly in support, but given they'll have the more important election to campaign for, won't spend too much time campaigning for it.

And what if, in spite of this, they actually get a Yes vote for AV?  It's a system the Lib Dems don't really like, and it isn't the STV that they wanted.  So how long before they demand another referendum on that voting system?  I think Dave saw Nick coming on that one - at least Dick Turpin wore a mask when he robbed people of their goods and dignity.

So, what does this mean for the coalition?  Well, 100 days in, they are still too busy dealing with Labour's deficit to focus on much else.  But soon these issues will come upon us.  In nine months time, devolved elections and a split over campaigning on the AV referendum might start to reveal tensions in the coalition.  And with the Lib Dem poll figures dropping considerably since they moved into government, the rose garden is the only thing that looks rosy for Nick Clegg at the moment.  

100 days ago, in that rose garden, when David Cameron was asked about Nick Clegg being his favourite joke, Clegg himself feigned walking away.  In nine months time he may just wish that he had kept walking.

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