James Forsyth

Keeping the troops happy

Keeping the troops happy
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A media narrative is rapidly emerging that the Tories are taking advantage of the Liberal Democrats, using them to defend the coalition’s most unpopular polices. On the Today Programme this morning, Justin Webb pressed Paul Burtstow, the Lib Dem health minister, on whose idea it was that he, the Lib Dem, come on the programme to defend the government against the Health Select Committee’s critical report. The implication was clear, that Burstow had been sent on because it was bad news.

I think this narrative is a bit shonky. Yes, the Liberal Democrats took the brunt of the criticism over the fees hike but that was because they were breaking an election pledge and because they chose to be out there defending it.

What is certainly true is that Nick Clegg needs some things to show his party that being in government is worthwhile. Clegg can use the pupil premium to demonstrate that the Liberal Democrats are achieving long-held ambitions in office. But that alone is not enough. I suspect that Rachel Sylvester (£) is right when she says that it is now imperative for Clegg that he wins on control orders. I suspect that a fully elected House of Lords, the other Lib Dem essential she mentions, will be used to soften the blow if the AV referendum is lost.

But there are a considerable number of Tory backbenchers who are already saying they would die in the ditch to prevent the Lords from becoming a fully elected House. Clegg and Cameron are going to have to spend even more time on party management in 2011 than they have in the last six months if they are to keep both of their parties happy.