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Monday 7th January 2013 | 16:01
As David Cameron pointed out today, some people didn't expect the Con-Lib Coalition to last beyond its first Christmas*.
But if you look past the 'bromance' narrative, you can see why Nick Clegg seems convinced that Coalitions are for life, not just for Christmas.
The DPM was understandably much more relaxed today when asked about the idea of working in partnership. While the PM was at pains to point out "this is a Government, not a relationship", Clegg said that he felt the "the Liberal Democrat presence in British politics and in British governments increase over time
That may be just be the cold, hard reality that a less tribal public are less likely to give either Labour or the Tories an outright majority. And for all their national polling figures, Clegg knows that many of his Lib Dem MPs are well dug-in locally and hard to shift. Even if he loses 15 of his MPs at the next election, he or his successor will still have a sizeable chunk of MPs to prop up another party.
It was clear today that there are still issues that divide Cam and Clegg. Europe was obvious, and Clegg also made clear that on welfare he dislikes the skivers/strivers rhetoric: "I don’t think it helps at all to try and sort of portray that decision as one which divides one set of people against another, the deserving and the undeserving poor, people in work and out of work".
Yet for all his frustrations with not having the free rein of single-party government, Cameron talks often as if this isn't just a one-term, marriage of convenience. Some Tories have always worried that the Libs give the PM a healthy enough buffer to face down some of his own less modernising backbenchers. One of the most striking things Cameron said today was that "the sense of shared purpose has if anything got stronger" over the past two years. If the economy is still not totally off the rocks in 2015, wouldn't his own logic suggest the need for another 'national interest' 'national Government'?
Of course, if the economy is still not fully 'healed' by the next election, it will be Labour who may reap the benefits. Yet despite the current polling lead for Ed Miliband, a Lib-Lab coalition is not beyond the bounds of possibility. Many Labour MPs would loathe the idea of the Libs as kingmakers over two Parliaments, but Clegg-Miliband alliances over Leveson, the Boundary Review and other areas give a sense of the further business that could be done.
Forget 'I beg your pardon/I never promised you a rose garden', a Lib-Lab Govt really could be 'a fine bromance...with no kisses'
*FOOTNOTE: In the interests of transparency, I have to declare an interest here. James Chapman and I have both bet Iain Martin a bottle of champagne that the Coalition will last until 2015. Iain's bubbly remains on ice..for now.
As for the MidTermReview itself, it really did feel odd that its foreword had six key areas of new policy (childcare, more help with mortgages, road tolls, single pension, elderly care cap and a new 'freedoms' bill) but none of them was actually then spelled out in the main text (even though there was a plethora of 'we will...'-style promises in the purple boxes of each chapter).
This may just be classic news management, whereby the PM and DPM get broadbrush soundbites on their 'ronseal' relations on the TV news and the detail is left for another day. But it could also be that someone read the whole Review and realised at the last minute that there was no new substance: and shoehorned the real (but unfinished) policy meat at the last minute? Either way, No.10 sources say all 6 policies - and the mortgages help is one well overdue - should come before the Budget.
One final presentational point, however. As the pic above shows, it may not have been the best idea to have a sea of hands in the main image behind the PM and DPM. It conjures up an image of a populace not waving, but drowning...
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