David Cameron and Nick Clegg are drawing up plans for closer links between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats and senior figures from the two parties will address each other’s party conference this autumn.
The two leaders are keen to cement the coalition and a special meeting of the Cabinet next month will discuss a joint approach to the party conference season, including co-ordinated policy announcements. One option is for Mr Cameron to address the Liberal Democrat conference in Liverpool and Mr Clegg the Tories in Birmingham. More likely, at present, is that other Cabinet ministers will “change places” and speak at their coalition partner’s event.
Mr Cameron wants Mr Clegg to play a key role on the international stage. The Deputy Prime Minister will handle Britain’s relations with China while Mr Cameron builds closer links with India. Mr Clegg will represent Britain at important United Nations summit on aid to poor countries in New York in September.
Although the Prime Minister and his deputy will ensure their summer holiday dates do not clash, Mr Clegg will not be formally in charge of the country when Mr Cameron takes a family holiday in England in August. This will be seen as a surprise, although Cameron allies insisted it was not a snub.
Speaking to journalists in Canada, where he is attending his first world leaders’ summit, Mr Cameron said modern communications no longer require a “formal handover” when the Prime Minister is on holiday. He said he wanted to avoid the “carry on” seen during Labour’s years in office, when the Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott took charge under Tony Blair and Cabinet ministers appeared to jostle for power when Gordon Brown took his summer break.
Mr Cameron spoke of his hopes of heading “a radical, reforming government”, arguing that Labour had squandered the opportunity created by its 1997 landslide. “I would rather have five reforming years as prime minister than 10 years like Blair,” he said.
The Prime Minister said the Tories and Liberal Democrats were being driven closer together by Labour’s attacks on them.
“Both in Parliament and the media, Labour is cunningly achieving the realignment of British politics – with themselves on the losing side,” he said. “There is an opportunity here. The more they rail against us, and rail against tackling the deficit, the more they push themselves into a very backward-looking place.”
However, Mr Cameron also made clear that he did not want the coalition to be associated in the public’s mind only with spending cuts. “I don’t want this to be a government that is about dealing with the deficit and cuts, important though that is, and a massive achievement if we could get to the next election and have balanced the books.”
He trailed a policy blitz on crime, criminal justice, health, schools, welfare and tackling unemployment over the summer.
“It is not a lowest common denominator government,” he said. “The Budget proved that we are prepared to take risks and be radical and if we can do that in other areas it could be very exciting.”
Despite Mr Cameron’s optimism about the coalition’s prospects, Alistair Darling, the shadow Chancellor, yesterday questioned whether the Tories and Liberal Democrats would stand together on the spending cuts included in the Budget.
He questioned whether Liberal Democrat MPs partners could "stay the course", saying: "The new government has chosen to do this, not because it had to do it, is putting forward proposals that go much much further [than Labour's deficit reduction plan], which I think run the risk of derailing the recovery, even supposing you can actually deliver them. And, you know, I'm beginning to see, even the last few days, some question marks as to whether or not the Liberals would actually stay the course here."
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