Leading article: The coalition experience starts here

Share
Related Topics

A coalition government headed by two relatively young leaders will take a little getting used to, in appearances, even before they get to grips with substance. Their joint press conference yesterday had something of the twin-anchored news bulletin, if not quite the comedy talk-show, about it. From now on, this is a double-act that both David Cameron, and his Liberal Democrat deputy, Nick Clegg, would be advised to invoke sparingly.

Yet the personal rapport and relaxed bonhomie on display yesterday set a pleasing and optimistic tone that contrasted sharply with the tired earnestness of the outgoing Labour government. And while, after 70 years in abeyance, the art of governing in coalition will probably take practice, personal compatibility and a sense of common purpose should help things along. If these start to falter, they could be in trouble.

What is fast becoming apparent, however, is the effort already invested by both men in this joint endeavour. The coalition agreement – a final, more detailed, version of which is promised – is an impressive piece of work for the scant four days it spent in gestation. It is far too early to agree with Messrs Cameron and Clegg that the country is entering an age of "new politics". After all, Mr Cameron's earlier vow to banish "Punch and Judy politics" soon foundered. But the detail of the agreement, and the acknowledgement that in some areas – nuclear power, the marriage tax break and a few others – there will be no agreement and none is expected, shows that the new Prime Minister intends to have another go at a more civilised way of doing politics. We shall see whether this can improve the atmosphere in the Commons. We hope it does.

Civility is a start. So, in more areas than we might have expected, are the policy compromises set out in the coalition agreement and implicit in the first Cabinet appointments. The Liberal Democrats have been given Energy and Scotland. But with Vince Cable becoming Business Secretary and David Laws chief secretary to the Treasury, the wings of the new Chancellor, George Osborne, are clipped.

Mr Cameron may also have appointed more Tory moderates than he would have done, unconstrained by coalition. Kenneth Clarke as Justice Secretary is one, but so is Theresa May – who once spoke of the "nasty party" – as Home Secretary. With William Hague as Foreign Secretary and Liam Fox at Defence, "abroad" looks like the single enclave of Conservative hawks. But foreign and security policy will not be the exclusive preserve of these offices; it will also come under the new National Security Council. And the language on Europe in the coalition agreement is less shrilly Eurosceptic than many Conservatives might have hoped.

The crispness of the agreement conveys a welcome air of urgency and efficiency – an impression reinforced by yesterday's swift announcement that Heathrow will not get a third runway. And while many key decisions have been delegated to commissions, this may not be a bad thing, if it promotes technocratic solutions above dogma. The agreement also serves as a reminder of the common ground that genuinely exists between the Liberal Democrats and a certain stamp of Tory. The "great repeal" of superfluous legislation, the cancellation of ID cards, and the restoration of civil liberties are to be applauded, and the coalition must be held to its word.

There must be grounds for concern at the speed with which the new government intends to start cutting the deficit and what sacrifices might be entailed – a key point conceded by the Liberal Democrats. Iain Duncan Smith's appointment to Work and Pensions may also presage a harsher approach to social welfare than we, and many Liberal Democrats, would favour. But the IDS of today is not the narrow right-winger who briefly and unhappily led the party. Like Michael Gove, who takes over Schools, his thinking goes beyond conventional party lines. We could also have wished for a more wholehearted embrace of electoral reform than the promised referendum on alternative voting.

But for coalition government to work, both sides have to compromise, and that includes the Liberal Democrats. Indeed, their commitment to proportional representation, which would make more common the sort of coalition being tried out here, obliges them to show that they can operate as responsible, if junior, partners. One day is far, far too early, to predict success or failure. Sooner or later tensions will test the solidity of the arrangement. As a start, though, it looks more promising than might have been expected; a project that does not deserve to be written off prematurely.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ed Miliband and David Cameron  

Cameron and Miliband should have faith in their bolder policies

Ian Birrell
Andreas Lubitz runs the Airport Race half marathon in Hamburg on 13 September 2009  

Being sensitive to mental health need not lead us to downplay the horror of what Lubitz did

Will Gore
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing