Ever the helpful friend in times of strife, Nick Clegg is giving a speech today in which he will soar above the troubles the Tories currently find themselves in to tell everyone that the two parties will remain manacled together until the 2015 general election. There has been plenty of speculation that this won’t be the case, with Benedict Brogan reporting yesterday that Downing Street has been mulling contingency plans for an early split prompted by Clegg being ousted in a Lib Dem coup. So the Deputy Prime Minister is attempting to put those rumours to bed, while positioning the Lib Dems as the mature party of government. He will say:
‘If you’re an ordinary person, going about your daily business, what would you have seen if you tuned into Westminster over the last few weeks? One minute, a Coalition Government publishing its third Queen’s Speech: fundamentally reforming pensions; tackling longstanding problems with social care; getting to grips with immigration. Big, bold measures that will leave a lasting imprint on millions of Britons’ lives. ‘The next? Westminster consumed by game-playing over Europe and gay marriage; MPs disappearing into a parliamentary rabbit warren, obsessing over this new tactic or that new trick: paving legislation, enabling referendums, wrecking amendments. Anyone watching would be forgiven for asking: What are these politicians doing? So it’s time to get back to governing, providing the leadership and focus the people of Britain deserve in these difficult times.’
This is clever. The Deputy Prime Minister is taking the opportunity to tell his colleagues off for bickering in public and to make them pull themselves together. It’s an attempt to show that Coalitions do work, because the real bickering takes place within, not between, parties. His advisers point to the ‘wrecking amendment’ on the Same Sex Marriage Bill this week as an example of squabbles which aren’t in the public interest. It would of course be churlish to point out that the Lib Dems don’t always glide through Coalition with the greatest of ease and grace: the row over childcare ratios recently showed they’ve got a bit of growing up to do themselves (although Clegg’s aides remain adamant that they had simply agreed to a consultation, not the policy itself). Clegg will accept that ‘it won’t all be plain-sailing’ and that both he and David Cameron will come under increasing pressure ‘to act as party leaders as much as PM and DPM’. How the parties manage a period of greater differentiation on issues such as Europe and human rights (Coffee House revealed last week that Chris Grayling plans to bring forward more ideas for the Tories on the latter in due course) will be a real test of how mature they both are as parties of government.