Fraser Nelson

The government takes shape

The government takes shape
Text settings

Here are some details of the LibCon deal, and my brief comments:

1. Clegg as Deputy PM. It’s a non-job, but a senior one – it means Clegg will take PMQs in Cameron’s absence, and will defend all those nasty cuts (sharing the blame for these cuts is the main rationale for coalition). This follows the 1999 Lib-Lab deal in Scotland, where Jim Wallace was made Deputy First Minister to everyone’s surprise.

2. Laws replaces Gove in education. This has not been confirmed yet, and I will not believe it until I see it. Of all of tonight's moves this is potentially the most concerning – especially for all those (including myself) who had said that the Gove schools policy was the best single reason to vote Tory. The Lib Dems agree with the principle, but propose a local authority veto: a move which would kill the policy. The Lib Dems have reiterated tonight that they are committed to the principle of free schools – but this policy lives or dies in the its detail. Gove is the guarantor of that detail. When Adonis left, City Academies went into reverse. When John Reid left health, its reform agenda halted. There is this risk with free schools. Those who voted Tory for Gove's schools agenda would instead get Laws' schools agenda. And we can by no means be assured that they are identical.

3. Fixed term government of five years. Good luck to them with that. No hung parliament in British peacetime history has lasted more than two years. The risk is that Labour calls a confidence motion at the most opportune time (“when the cuts are hurting most” a Labour MP told me this evening) and that the Lib Dems join them, in mock protest at the cuts. So this scenario would allow an election to be called at the time of Labour’s choosing.

4. The deficit reduction: not much of a pledge.
Even Gordon Brown would have had to cut the deficit faster than he laid out in the budget. The question, “how much faster”, will be answered in a Budget (I hear 22 July)

5. Trident. Government “committed to nuclear deterrent” and LibDems “free to pursue” other options to it. A fudge which satisfies both.

6. Marriage tax proposals. Lib Dems will abstain on those proposals, which means passing them will be Cameron’s first parliamentary test. The proposals, as described so far, are fiscally minimal (£150/year) so would Cam risk defeat over them? I expect this policy to be shelved for a few years.

7. Raising tax allowance to £10k (best Lib Dem idea) is an “aspiration”. I do hope fast progress is being made on this. Michael Forsyth and Tebbit both support it.

8. Danny Alexander to Scotland. The Scotland Secretary position is another non-job that should be abolished, but brings one of the nicest offices in Whitehall (Dover House) and gives the Lib Dems a power base in Scotland ahead of the coming Holyrood elections.

9. English votes for English laws.
If passed, this policy would give Tory MPs outright control of health, education, transport policy etc in England. I do wonder if the Lib Dems will let them pass this, or try to kill it in the Lords.

10. Saving Chris Huhne? There was word that Tories would not put up a candidate against Huhne or the other Lib Dem ministers, to protect them from an anti-Tory backlash in their own constituencies. It’s reassuring that this is not in the deal: to do so would disenfranchise Conservative voters in these areas.

On a final note, I found Brown’s resignation – and the manner of it – very moving. He was right to praise his wife, whose conduct in No.10 has been exemplary. To walk out with his children very powerfully symbolised his swapping one life (a fairly tortuous one) for another. As he rightly said, he’s now focusing on his most important job: husband and father. There is genuine joy in his face when he is with his sons. I have been a critic of his policies. But I wish him every happiness with his young family in the years to come.