Coalition 'is weakening effective government'

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Indy Politics

The British public's brief flirtation with coalition government is over. A year after the Liberal Democrat-Conservative administration was formed, voters think it has made government weaker, less decisive, less responsive and more confused.

A study by a Whitehall think tank contains very bad news for Nick Clegg. It suggests he has failed in his mission to convince people that coalitions are a good thing. Even current Liberal Democrat supporters are not persuaded.

Mr Clegg's fightback after last week's double defeat at the ballot box suffered a setback last night when David Cameron said the Government's rethink over its NHS reforms was his idea, not Mr Clegg's. The Prime Minister told the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs that his party must not "allow the Liberal Democrats to pose as a moderating influence" on it. Mr Cameron said the partnership would put his party in a position where it could go for an outright majority at the next general election.

Just before and after last year's general election, the public seemed to be warming to the idea of parties working together in a coalition. But the experience of the past 12 months appears to have turned people against it by a margin of about 2-1 – the same majority as against the alternative vote (AV) in last week's referendum, according to today's report by the independent Institute for Government.

Even among Liberal Democrat supporters, 49 per cent believe it is a bad thing that no party won an overall majority and 44 per cent a good thing, according to a poll by Populus for the institute. Only 24 per cent of people believe being run by a coalition rather than a single party with an overall majority has made government stronger, while 68 per cent think it is weaker as a result. Three out of four (73 per cent) believe it is more indecisive than a majority government; 80 per cent more confused about what it stands for and 57 per cent less responsive to the public.

Almost three in five people (58 per cent) believe the Liberal Democrats have abandoned their principles by joining the Coalition. Some 61 per cent of people who voted for Mr Clegg's party last year now support another one. The only crumb of comfort for Mr Clegg is that the public still think his party was right to join forces with the Tories – by a margin of 52 to 43 per cent.

But the institute argues that the Deputy Prime Minister has much work to do to convince people of his "coalition works" mantra by the next general election. "As a political project, the Coalition clearly needs to reinvent and renew itself," said Lord Adonis, the Labour peer and the institute's director. The institute suggests Mr Clegg would enjoy more clout inside the Coalition if he headed a major department such as the Home Office rather than in his government-wide role based in the Cabinet Office. However, the Deputy Prime Minister looks certain to reject the experts' advice. His aides say he wants to keep his cross-departmental role.

Yesterday Mr Clegg made clear his determination to distance his party from the Tories following last week's elections and referendum. "We will stand together, but not so closely that we stand in each other's shadow. You will see a strong liberal identity in a strong coalition government," he said in a speech marking the anniversary.

Today, Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg will make their first joint appearance since last week when they launch a new government strategy to combat youth unemployment.

No 10 uses fake names

If you have had a signed letter from Downing Street any time in the past six years, the name and signature at the bottom were probably fake.

The use of false names on replies to people who write to the Prime Minister, which dates back to when Tony Blair was in office, was exposed yesterday by the veteran Labour MP, Sir Gerald Kaufman.

Mr Kaufman told MPs that he had received a letter from the Downing Street correspondence unit signed by "Mrs E Adams". But when he rang Mrs Adams, he discovered there is no such person on David Cameron's staff.

He said: "I was then put on to somebody who described themselves as head of the correspondence unit who said that Mrs Adams did not exist but was a computer-generated name." Sir Gerald added that in his 41 years as an MP, he has received personal replies from every prime minister except David Cameron.

Downing Street later said the practice of using false names began in 2005 after a female member of staff was traced and threatened on her doorstep. The practice will now be reconsidered.

Andy McSmith

Old habits die hard

David Cameron's attempts to rid himself of his "Flashman" image have been put on hold until his wife comes back to look after the children, Downing Street joked yesterday.

At yesterday's Prime Minister's Questions, the Labour leader Ed Miliband referred to yesterday's report in The Independent that Mr Cameron had been told by advisers to change his Commons performances so they were "less aggressive" and patronising and "more prime ministerial".

But far from stepping back from the fray, Mr Cameron hit back comparing Mr Miliband to the ski-jumper Eddie "the Eagle" Edwards. Afterwards aides said that Mr Cameron really was trying to reform – but was a little bit "tired" as he had not had much sleep in recent days. He is in sole charge of the couple's three children while his wife Samantha is away on business.

"We've still got some work to do," an aide conceded.