Andrew Grice: Nick Clegg may have missed his big chance. But it's David Cameron who's feeling the heat

 

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The Independent Online

Normally, governments are keen to shout from the rooftops about the key measures in its Queen's Speech. Yesterday was different.

David Cameron and Nick Clegg are acutely aware that, by trumpeting what the public regard as marginal issues such as House of Lords reform at a time of economic austerity, they run the risk of being accused of fiddling while Rome burns. The Coalition parties insist that some measures in yesterday's slimline package will help to secure the growth the whole country is desperate to see. They cite Vince Cable's proposals to cut red tape and encourage firms to recruit workers by making it easier to dismiss them; a shake-up of banking and electricity market reforms that will safeguard jobs. But the banking measures will not be completed until 2019, so that they will not spur growth any time soon. "You don't create growth by debating legislation in the Commons," one Clegg aide said. Number 10 officials added that the Queen's Speech is not an economic statement, pointing to the March Budget – but not very hard, since that has backfired spectacularly.

This presentational problem explains why Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg did their "it's the economy, stupid" tractor factory visit before rather than after the Queen's Speech. But it didn't stop questions about the lack of economic beef when yesterday's list of Bills was unveiled.

The same problem may eventually spell the death knell for Mr Clegg's plans for an elected Lords. The Lib Dem leader does not pretend they are shouting "we want elected peers" in the Dog and Duck. He will fight hard to keep alive his once-in-a-century chance of reform, but is likely to be outgunned by noisy objections from Tory MPs. Mr Cameron may well soon go to Mr Clegg and say: "Sorry, Nick, I've tried my best, but it will send the wrong signal to keep banging on about Lords reform rather than the economy."

The Lib Dems are not too downhearted. Yesterday's package includes change that their conferences have debated for decades. Now their ministers are implementing them, quietly forcing through measures that a Tory-only Government would never have touched. The Lib Dems seem in much better heart than the Tories. Mr Clegg's party took its thumping in last week's elections more easily than the Tories. Team Cameron is rattled by accusations of incompetence since the Budget and a chilling feeling that the Queen's Speech and economic debate will be overshadowed by more claims at the Leveson Inquiry about the PM's links with the Murdoch empire.

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