I doubt No.10 will be all that charmed by David Davis’s comments on Straight Talk with
Andrew Neil this weekend, but they should certainly take note of them. They contain some substantive points about the government’s relationship with Tory backbenchers, and points which Davis
is not alone in making. The key passage comes when he discusses the watered-down capital gains tax hike:
"I don’t think a victory over [the Lib Dems], I mean, it’s quite interesting, we tried to design this, whatever you want to call it, I don’t know whether it’s a
rebellion or a difference of view, to really be a precursor to what’s going to happen over the next couple of years, you know. The coalition has got a way of negotiating with the
Liberal Democrats, it’s got most of them in Government, it hasn’t really got a way of negotiating with the Conservative party so we tried to have a rational debate, talk not in ad
hominem terms about Liberal Democrat or Tory interests but try and say, why is this wrong, because it won’t raise enough money, if you went to 50 percent it will actually lose money in
truth, because it’ll punish people just retiring with their nest eggs. All those arguments, and we tried to make these arguments in ways that would appeal both to Liberals and to
Tories, and I think broadly, we did which is why we got, I guess, two thirds of what we wanted."
And, just to reinforce his point about this being a "precursor" to future action, Davis suggests that the coalition agreement can, and should, be subject to change:
“…you can’t just make all your Government ideas and manifesto up over a weekend of high stress negotiation which is what the Coalition Agreement was. It’s got
to be subject to sensible amendment as you go along, and I think that’s what I think will happen."
The problem for Davis, though, is that the Lib Dem left probably feels exactly the same way – and, as Tim Montgomerie highlighted in the Times this week, it poses a much stronger, more urgent threat to the life of the coalition. So those
"amendments" may not always swing the way that the Tory backbenches want them to.