Leading article: Distraction will not be enough, Mr Cameron

 

Share
Related Topics

It has been an uncomfortable few months for the Government. The economy is back in recession.

The Budget was not only a fiasco in itself – the pluses leaked, the minuses buried – it was followed by a string of embarrassing U-turns as ill-thought-out policies, from fuel duty rises to pasty taxes, were disowned. Then there was last week's rebellion over House of Lords reform, a debacle which struck at the heart of coalition co-operation and left the Prime Minister open to charges of everything from disingenuousness, to weakness, to bullying. Mid-term blues, indeed.

Hardly surprising, then, that David Cameron hopes to use the brief hiatus before Parliament's summer break to draw a line under recent upheavals. And how better to do it than to shift the focus back to the economy? Not only might some big-ticket programmes draw public attention away from the feuds and emphasise coalition consensus on the issue that is, by far, voters' priority. They might also head off increasingly vocal criticisms – from the Confederation of British Industry, among others – that the cuts-obsessed Government is not doing enough to restore growth.

What of the measures themselves? The first came at the end of last week, with the launch of a Bank of England-backed project to pump more money into loans for businesses wanting to expand. The idea is an inventive one. But it is far from certain whether it will work. There is no guarantee that banks will participate, nor that there will be suitable demand, and previous efforts, albeit less sophisticated in design, have had little effect.

Hot on the heels of the "funding for lending" scheme comes today's breathless announcement of "the biggest investment in the rail network since the Victorian era". There is much to be welcomed here, both in the general good of transport spending and in the specifics of, for example, major capacity increases in the north. But the fact remains that a capital programme running from 2014 onwards hardly helps with Britain's current economic woes. Of greater promise are infrastructure plans, due later in the week, that are expected to set out ways to use the government balance sheet to encourage private sector investment, particularly in building houses. Given Britain's dire shortage of affordable homes, and desperate need for skilled jobs, the proposal has considerable potential. As with credit easing efforts, however, it remains to be seen whether a clever idea can be made to work in practice.

In the immediate term, though, the Prime Minister hopes the flurry of activity will steady the Government's wobble by proving that, for all the internal differences, the need to kick-start economic growth remains the Coalition's top – and undisputed – priority. Yes and no. It would certainly be easy to make too much of reports of fury on the back benches. Disagreements are, after all, an unavoidable feature of coalition. The problem is that the vast majority have, so far, gone the Conservatives' way, with only minor concessions in return. It is this that makes last week's fracas more than just a passing spat, raising the risk that the Liberal Democrats vote down Tory-backed boundary changes in return, and that the Government then descends into unworkable acrimony.

To predict the Coalition's demise would be precipitous. But it would, equally, be naive to think that the tensions will just fade away, for all the consensus on economic policy. The Liberal Democrats have fulfilled their side of the Rose Garden bargain. The ball is now in Mr Cameron's court. With Lords reform to return to the Commons in the autumn, he does not have long to decide how he will play it.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Jihadist militants leading away captured Iraqi soldiers in Tikrit, Iraq, in June  

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Robert Fisk
India's philosopher, environmental activist, author and eco feminist Vandana Shiva arrives to give a press conference focused on genetically modified seeds on October 10, 2012  

Meet Vandana Shiva: The deserving heir to Mahatma Ghandi's legacy

Peter Popham
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home