We must focus on growth, says ex-Treasury secretary David Laws


The extremes of political parties are always going to feel "uncomfortable" in a coalition, former chief secretary to the Treasury David Laws said today as he dismissed splits among the Liberal Democrats and Tories.

Mr Laws also admitted the Government needs to focus on economic growth over the next year, admitting ministers had not anticipated the "force of the headwinds" from the eurozone crisis.

Speaking as the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Prime Minister David Cameron prepared to renew their commitment to the coalition, Mr Laws said it was important that political parties were given room to "breathe".

Enforcing "iron discipline" among backbench MPs could actually prove destabilising, he said.

Mr Laws told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "You are always going to get in a coalition the people on the extreme edges of the parties, the right of the Conservative Party, the left of the Liberal Democrats, feeling uncomfortable about the process of coalition, the compromises that involves.

"I think actually that process of letting each party breathe a bit is also important to giving coalitions the ability to last because if you have iron discipline, (under) which parts of parties cannot express themselves at all, that's not actually a stabilising force."

Mr Laws said focusing on the Government's economic priorities did not mean each party's own policies had to be dropped.

"We can keep more than one ball up in the air at a time," he said, adding that the current economic situation meant people were feeling "pretty grumpy".

Mr Laws, who was forced to quit the Cabinet over irregularities in his MP's expenses, said: "What has always been crucial for this Government's deficit reduction strategy is not only the control of spending, which we are getting right, but that growth should come through.

"That's where we have seen a shortfall over the last couple of years, particularly because of the international environment.

"I don't think it's a choice between having a deficit reduction strategy and growth. Actually, growth is a key part of deficit reduction and that's what we have got to focus on even more over the year ahead."