Tomorrow’s announcement on university funding is a big moment for the coalition. It will show that the Conservative and Liberal Democrat leaderships have been able to come to agreement on a subject where they thought the differences were insurmountable just five months ago when they negotiated the coalition agreement. Indeed, in their months together in government, the two sides have managed to deal with two of the three issues that were too hot to handle in the coalition agreement.
As I revealed in the Mail on Sunday, preparations have already begun behind the scenes to draw up a joint policy agenda for the second half of the parliament. A group of senior Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, including Cabinet members and influential policy makers, will soon start meeting to hash out what the coalition does next. This group, known internally as Coalition 2.0, has the blessing and encouragement of both Cameron and Clegg.
In a sign of the importance of these talks, the Lib Dem group contains two of the four members of the original coalition negotiating team, David Laws and Chris Huhne. The other two Lib Dem members are Julian Astle, a former adviser to Paddy Ashdown, and Paul Marshall, a hedge fund millionaire and long-standing Liberal Democrat. Both are close to the Lib Dem leadership and involved with Centre Forum, the think tank which is organising these meetings.
The Tory delegation is interesting because of the efforts that have been made to bind the right into the process. Owen Paterson, the Northern Ireland Secretary who was IDS’ PPS when he was leader, and Tim Montgomerie, who was an IDS’ aide before he set up Conservative Home, are both included. The other Tories are Greg Clark, who—Conservative Home reports—came up with idea for the whole project, George Osborne’s close ally Daniel Finkelstein and—as The Guardian revealed today—Michael Gove.
One of the fascinating aspects of these meetings is that they will, inevitably, bleed across into things that will take until after the next election to complete. This group could well end up being where the outlines of a second term agenda for the coalition emerges from.