Leading article: Coalition II – a timely relaunch

 

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There will be members of both parties, not a few of them MPs, who will not be at all happy about today's relaunch of the Coalition. They have long regarded the power-sharing deal as having diluted both parties' brands, and now they hold it responsible for the substantial losses they suffered at last week's elections. Against this background, the relaunch – or fightback as it is being called – to mark the Coalition's second anniversary, is a bold, even defiant, move by the two leaders, designed to signal that shared power can work and is not about to end.

The mood of today's event will, of course, be quite different from the optimism and bonhomie of two years ago. In place of the sunlit garden at No 10, there will be a sober factory backdrop. Nick Clegg has spent the past half-year trying, with limited success, to stake out more independent ground. After the local elections, he and David Cameron will be concerned to stress their parties' unique points, at least as much as what they have in common. Where the two men choose to agree in public is likely to be in a gritty sense of realism about the scale of the task still ahead.

The Queen's Speech tomorrow will show how far, if at all, either leader has made concessions to his dissenters. Reform of the House of Lords, a favourite project of the Liberal Democrats – which Mr Clegg defended again in a newspaper article yesterday – will be one to watch. Reports of a retreat on gay marriage, however – a particular focus of right-wing Tory displeasure – appear to reflect a misunderstanding or perhaps even mischief-making. Legislation has a target date of 2015 and was never planned to feature in this Queen's Speech. Given that the policy has the full support of both leaders, there is no reason to believe it is at risk; though a restatement of commitment would be welcome.

Today's relaunch will present an older, perhaps wiser, and certainly more sombre duo, with achievements, as well as failures, to its name. But the two leaders need to demonstrate to a jaded public that they can connect and still have energy and ideas. Less than halfway through a fixed five-year term is no time to panic about the next general election.

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