Coalition remains steadfast and united, insists Cameron (just don't mention Europe)

Another year, another renewal of vows. Two leaders to insist they still have one voice

Andy McSmith
Monday 07 January 2013 09:52 GMT
David Cameron and Nick Clegg are preparing to put on a show of unity on Monday when they present the
Coalition’s mid-term review, spelling out its policy agenda from now until the election
David Cameron and Nick Clegg are preparing to put on a show of unity on Monday when they present the Coalition’s mid-term review, spelling out its policy agenda from now until the election

The old, the very young, the homeless and the frustrated traveller are to be the main beneficiaries of Coalition promises that will be made today as David Cameron and Nick Clegg reaffirm their vows to keep up their partnership. At the midpoint between the last general election and the next, scheduled to be in May 2015, the two leaders will make a rare joint appearance to mark the publication of what they call their Mid-Term Review.

A foreword to the document, signed by them both, insists: "Our parties, after 32 months of coalition, remain steadfast and united." It adds: "Our resolve and sense of shared purpose have, if anything, grown over time. Our resolve is unwavering: we will continue to put political partisanship to one side to govern in the long-term interests of the country."

The document is expected to set out the six main areas on which the Coalition will be concentrating in the second half of this Parliament, but it is not expected to go into detail about any new policies. Rather, it is intended to trumpet how well they think the Coalition has worked so far – and so is expected to shy away from areas of contention between the two parties, notably Europe and House of Lords reform.

Areas covered will include an unspecified promise of financial help for working mothers towards the cost of childcare, as an encouragement to return to work, and promises of a better state pension and help towards the cost of long-term care of the elderly.

The review will also promise increased investment in housing and transport, and a reduction in the size of the state. The detail will come later, in a series of policy announcements.

The mood today is expected to be very different from the cheery event in Downing Street's Rose Garden that launched the Coalition in May 2010. The two party leaders will hold a joint press conference in a more formal setting inside 10 Downing Street, with none of the jokey informality of their first joint appearance.

An upbeat Mr Cameron insisted yesterday that it would be "full steam ahead" for the Coalition, and dropped a strong hint that he hoped still to be Prime Minister when the election after next came round, in 2020. Asked by the Sunday Telegraph whether he wanted to be in Downing Street that long, he replied: "Look, I want to fight the next election and serve."

On the BBC's Andrew Marr programme yesterday he was asked whether that implied that he wanted another five years after an election, Mr Cameron replied: "That is exactly what I have said."

By that time he would come very close to matching Tony Blair's 10-year residence in Downing Street and Margaret Thatcher's 15 years as leader of the Conservative Party.

Mr Cameron added: "Far from running out of ideas, we have got a packed agenda, which concerns things like how do we build roads in Britain to make sure our economy keeps moving, how do we pay for the care for the elderly, how do we have a pension system that encourages saving – big things that are going to equip our country for the next decade."

Point by point: the issues … and non-issues

1. Working families

"We will support working families with their childcare costs." There is little incentive for mothers on salaries below £40,000 to return to work, because income will barely cover the cost of childcare. David Cameron is reported to place a very high priority on resolving this, either through the tax system or vouchers. This would mitigate the loss of child benefit by parents in the higher income brackets, although full-time mothers get nothing.

2. Housing

"We will build more houses and make the dream of home ownership a reality for more people." The centre-right think tank Policy Exchange warned last week that the Government is at risk of presiding over the lowest level of house building since the 1920s. David Cameron and Nick Clegg previously set out measures to try to revive house building, including relaxing planning laws. They will need something more radical, such as cutting VAT on home repairs.

3. Transport

"We will set out plans for long-term investment in Britain's transport infrastructure." This might sound like good news for motorists stuck in traffic, but there is likely to be a catch – more toll roads. This could mean driving on motorways becomes more expensive, increasing congestion on minor roads. Despite opposition, the Coalition appears determined to go through with the HS2 London-Birmingham rail link.

4. State pensions

"We will set out two big reforms to provide dignity in old age: an improved state pension that rewards saving…" There is likely to be a more generous flat-rate pension, possibly worth £155 a week. Women who have not made sufficient contributions to qualify for a full pension because they have been looking after children will probably get the same as if they had been in paid work. But the pension qualifying age, already due to rise to 67, will increase again.

5. Long-term care

"…and more help with the costs of long-term care". When the government-appointed commission chaired by the economist Andrew Dilnot reported in July 2011, one recommendation was that the amount any elderly person had to pay towards their own long-term care should be capped at between £20,000 and £50,000, instead of the present system that says anyone with assets of £23,500 has to pay an unlimited contribution. The government may set a cap of £75,000.

6. Reshaping Britain

"As we take these steps to reshape the British state for the 21st century, we will take further steps to limit its scope and extend our freedoms." This is the vaguest of all the general statements of what the Coalition proposes to do, and seems to describe a general attitude of mind rather than any specific legislation. It refers to small ways in which regulation affects people's daily lives, such as the freedom to hold street parties or act as a volunteer.

The unspoken policies

The review stays well away from the subject of Europe. Nick Clegg is against any unilateral attempt by the UK to write the EU club rules. David Cameron still wants to redraw parliamentary boundaries and cut the number of MPs, but Mr Clegg is making reform of the House of Lords the price of his support. Mr Clegg thinks UK drug laws need revisiting; Mr Cameron does not. Further away, the future of the Trident nuclear programme is an area of potential conflict.

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