Here is a point about the coalition which is so obvious that I have not seen it expressed. When a single party is in power, the approach of a general election is the key discipline: almost however much colleagues disagree, they unite. When there is a coalition, the opposite applies. Each partner needs to disown the other. Because the coalition foolishly legislated to fix the life of this Parliament, the parties are bound together until May 2015. It is like the pre-war situation of marriage as satirised by A.P. Herbert in his novel, Holy Deadlock. The only means of divorce is to behave appallingly. The effect is that what began well is almost bound to end badly.
So much did PFI contracts capture the government machine that there was even one for the annual Christmas tree at No. 11 Downing Street, home of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. This year, George Osborne cancelled the deal, and told his PPS, Amber Rudd, to look for a money-saving alternative. She found one at Parsonage Farm in Udimore, Sussex, a village near us. The farmers, Roger and Leonie Wheeler, cut a 10-foot Norway spruce, tied it to their Land Rover and drove it through the gates of Downing Street without any Andrew Mitchell-style argy-bargy from the police. The Wheelers gave out of the kindness of their hearts, but if they had charged, the cost would have been £80-100, Mrs Wheeler tells me. The PFI contract was £800.
This week at Westminster Cathedral, family and friends will gather for the funeral of Brigid Utley. For 37 years of marriage, Brigid devoted herself to her husband, the great Tory journalist T.E. Utley (always known as Peter), never leaving him for a single night except when he was in hospital, spending almost all the time when he was not at work in the same room with him.