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News, gossip and insight from PoliticsHome Editor Paul Waugh

He Who Libs, Wins

In any marriage, or even civil partnership, there will always be times when one party seems to be wearing the (non-gender specific) trousers.

Today, Nick Clegg can bask in last night's AV Bill victory, delivering an historic referendum that could possibly see his party in power for a long time.

But the DPM can also celebrate having played a key role in a string of other areas being discussed today. On each issue, you can judge his success by the irritated reaction of the average Tory backbencher.

On welfare reform, Clegg's intevention has ensured the scrapping of plans to cut housing benefit from those unemployed for more than a year.  IDS this morning said he'd been looking at the issue for a while, but added: "I'm fully at one with Nick and others on this. It's a very good idea that we don't have it in." How long has it been since, we've heard the 'I agree with Nick' line?

On gay marriage and civil partnerships for unmarried heterosexuals, Lynne Featherstone is delivering a policy that infuriates the Tory rank and file. IDS and the PM both have a strong belief in the power of marriage, but it's not clear that this is exactly what either had in mind.

On a British Bill of Rights, the Libs can be very happy that their Coalition Agreement tactic of kicking this into the long grass of a "Commission" is still working. Only yesterday, after PMQs, sources close to the PM said that although the Commission's creation would be "imminent", it would be upto the Tory party separately to develop more radical policy.

One very senior source unwittingly underlined just how impotent the PM was in Government on this: "We have to be realistic that within the Coalition Agreement we cannot, for example, withdraw from the ECHR. There will be Conservative Party work going on alongside the British Bill of Rights Commission designed to get us into the right place on this. In reality, this issue could drag on for year and will still be very much alive by the time of 2015 comes around." So, for all the noise and heat over prisoner votes and the sex offenders register and Cam "declaring war on the judges", Clegg holds the veto.

On the forests U-turn, Libs whisper privately that they always thought this was a 'bonkers' policy, even less popular than the Big Society (a marketing label the DPM clearly dislikes).

On green policy, Allegra Stratton's now unmissable column today reveals how Clegg and Chris Huhne are fighting the Treasury on the Green Investment Bank. As well as overseeing a 'green week' next month.

On growth, even a (self-)castrated Vince Cable seems to be having a genuine influence. The Budget will in many ways be the Growth White Paper that Cable wanted last year but was overruled by Treasury doubters.

On social mobility, Clegg led a Cabinet discussion the other week on this very topic and he's ensured that it colours the way many areas of Government policy (not least Michael Gove's education plans) are sold to the public. Today, the DPM was hosting a 'roundtable' on social mobility amid all the splendour of Lancaster House.

On the AV referendum, many Tories fear that Cameron is soft-pedalling his support for First Past The Post simply to help his mate Nick. Although we will have both Cam and Clegg out making different cases tomorrow, neither will actually be leading the charge in the campaign.

David Cameron has just used his welfare speech to point out that there have been some things dropped from the IDS bill. He said that was simply proof that Coalition Government - with all its hammering out of policy - was working properly.

Yet having executed more U-turns than a Top Gear stunt driver special, it sometimes just looks as though the Cameroons' haste is catching up with them. Some Libs quietly point out that almost all of the U-turns are on rushed-out policies that they privately warned needed more work.

Ms Featherstone, referring to the differing church views on gay marriage, said today: "It's quite clear there are all sorts who want different things".

That's also a neat summary of the Coalition. It just seems that today the DPM is the one wearing the trousers, rather than the pantsuit.

 

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