Why the Coalition is still doomed... to last until 2015

Inside Westminister

Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband talked intensely at St Paul’s Cathedral as they waited for Margaret Thatcher’s funeral to begin.

They walked away from the other mourners and brushed away aides who tried to interrupt them. A funeral was a rather strange event at which to cement their improving relationship. The catalyst was their shared instincts on the Leveson report about press regulation. They did not share David Cameron’s hostility to “statutory underpinning” a new system. Mr Clegg sided with Mr Miliband rather than the man with whom he is in Coalition and stuck to his guns.

Mr Clegg’s stance was an ice-breaker. Until then, many Labour politicians could not forgive him for joining the Conservatives in Coalition three years ago today. Now Mr Clegg and Mr Miliband realise they have much more in common than their views on the newspaper industry. Labour has embraced the long-standing Liberal Democrat policy of a mansion tax on homes worth more than £2m. The two leaders are on the same page on Europe. They believe that Mr Cameron’s promise of an in/out referendum by 2017 could put job-creating foreign investment at risk and lead to the EU exit door.

The Labour and Liberal Democrat leaders know their personal relationship would matter in the event of another hung parliament after the 2015 general election, a prospect that looks more likely after the UK Independence Party’s arrival as a serious force. The present Coalition was built on the solid foundation of Mr Clegg’s relationship with Mr Cameron. As the Labour peer Lord Adonis notes in his revealing new book 5 Days in May about the negotiations after the last election: “Cameron and Clegg cultivated good relations in opposition before 2010. This was crucial to the formation of the Coalition, as it has been to the weathering of vicissitudes since.”

The Cameron-Clegg relationship is certainly being tested now. The past week was supposed to be what their aides call a “proalition moment”, as the two parties promoted their joint Queen’s Speech. It was anything but. Although the Coalition is not going to crash and will probably stay on the road until 2015, we may look back on this week as the moment when the wheels started to come loose. The Speech was notable for what was left out because the Coalition partners could not agree. Mr Clegg vetoed the so-called “snooper’s charter”, while Mr Cameron blocked a law on overseas aid spending.

It looked like tit-for-tat politics and there was more to come. Mr Clegg disowned government plans to increase the number of children that can be looked after by individual nursery staff and childminders. Furious Tories claim he crossed a rubicon because he had backed the move last December.  Mr Clegg is equally furious – about being accused of breaking Coalition rules. He has raised his doubts about relaxing the childcare ratios with Mr Cameron on several occasions recently. A leaked email shows his previous backing made clear the Government “will take account of the results of the consultation”, an exercise which found overwhelming hostility among parents, providers and experts.

In turn, Mr Cameron gave Tory MPs and ministers the green light to back an amendment to the Queen’s Speech regretting the absence of an EU referendum bill – in other words, blaming it on Europhile Liberal Democrats. The Speech is already frayed.

The two parties were always going to diverge before the 2015 election but it has started a year earlier than most insiders expected. “The mood is very scratchy,” one Cabinet minister admitted. “There are lots of rows. Things have changed.”

The Cameron-Clegg relationship is now described by their aides as “professional” and “business-like” rather than close. Neither man wants an election before 2015 with the economy flat, so the Coalition is still doomed to last.

The Coalition’s other crucial strength, as Lord Adonis notes, has been agreement on economic policy. This is about to be tested amid huge tensions over the £11.5bn of spending cuts to be announced by George Osborne on 26 June. It won’t all be about rows between the Tories and Liberal Democrats as departmental ministers defend their own turf. “There will be blue-on-blue attacks as well as blue on yellow and yellow on blue,” one insider said. Mr Miliband will be watching how his new friend plays it.

In public, the Labour leader is sticking to his line that it would be “difficult” to be in coalition with Mr Clegg after he had been Deputy Prime Minister in a Tory-led Government. But Mr Miliband is careful not to use the word “never.”

The Labour leader will not start saying nice things about the Liberal Democrats in public. He desperately needs to keep the voters who have switched from Mr Clegg’s party to Labour since 2010, without whom he would have no hope of outright victory in 2015. Until then, the growing mutual respect between Mr Miliband and Mr Clegg will be the love that dare not speak its name.

Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Esteban Cambiasso makes it 3-3
premier league
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
people'I hated him during those times'
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleMemoir extracts show iconic designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Life and Style
fashionAlexander Fury's Spring/Summer 2015 London Fashion Week roundup
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late on stage in Brixton show
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
people''Women's rights is too often synonymous with man-hating'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam