Daniel Korski

The Tory-Lib Dem row could lead to a DPM’s department

I have for a long time been sceptical of the idea that the AV referendum will damage the work of the coalition — even once the recriminations start to fly. Having seen it up close, I know how much effort both Tory and Lib Dem ministers actually put in to keep each other informed of their work and policies. Tory-led Departments often consult Lib Dems. And the PM and the DPM seem to have a better relationship than most of their predecessors had. They are certainly more ideologically aligned than Tony Blair was with John Prescott.

Now Sam Coates says in The Times (£) that things are hitting the skids, with Tories deliberately blocking Lib Dems from gaining access to key documents and briefings. I don’t doubt that this happens. But many Cabinet ministers will be weary of sharing material with their junior ministers, even if they are from the same party. Perhaps especially if they know them well. Think how Clare Short undermined Chris Mullen at DfiD, as described in the latter’s excellent lament A View from the Foothills. Civil servants also love working for Secretaries of State, and often indirectly help to undermine Junior Ministers.

The row, however, puts a spotlight on Nick Clegg’s role in government. When the Lib Dem leader decided not to head a department, as many expected he would, he signalled his intention to be part of every government decision not tied down by a departmental remit.

But Clegg did not build up the kind of policy machinery in the DPM’s office that is required not only to stay abreast of policy developments, but also to drive change in the direction he wants.

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