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July 16, 2012 1:58 pm
David Cameron and Nick Clegg vowed to see through the coalition’s full five-year term, in a joint appearance intended to quell weeks of feuding between Tories and Liberal Democrats.
The prime minister and his deputy on Monday insisted the coalition would not break up before 2015 and promised to galvanise their “mission” in the autumn by publishing a new list of priorities for the rest of the parliament.
The tensions caused by the debate on House of Lords reform has poisoned relations between the two coalition parties, leading to speculation the coalition might break up early.
Boris Johnson, London mayor, told the BBC that “logically it must be true that at some stage before 2015 there will have to be a decision to part company”.
But as MPs prepared to leave Westminster for their summer break, Mr Cameron insisted there was still “huge momentum” in the government and declared: “I’m even more committed to making this coalition work than I was in 2010.”
Meanwhile, Mr Clegg said he never expected the coalition to be “a walk in the park – or the Rose Garden” – a reference to his sun-drenched joint press conference with Mr Cameron at the start of the coalition two years ago.
The joint press conference at a train engineering centre at Smethwick, near Birmingham, was the backdrop to a rail investment announcement and was intended as a reminder that the coalition was created to sort out the country’s economic mess.
Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg attempted to minimise the lasting impact of last week’s rows over Lords reform, although the issue is unresolved and threatens to sour the start of the new political season in September.
David Laws, a close ally of Mr Clegg, likened the row to a marital tiff where one might end up “spending several nights in separate bedrooms” rather than the precursor of a divorce.
But unless Mr Cameron can persuade his party to accept some kind of reform, Mr Clegg’s party will block a Commons boundary review that the prime minister hopes could provide him with the 10-20 extra seats that could be crucial at the next election.
To try to give a sense of purpose back to the coalition, the Tories and Lib Dems will over the summer discuss plans for a “midterm review” of the government’s work so far and its priorities for the rest of the parliament.
Mr Cameron said it would be a “slimmed down” list of priorities, and coalition officials said it was unlikely to contain new policy ideas.
Instead it would set out what needs to be done to implement and bed down the reforms already contained in the 2010 coalition agreement, including welfare, education and pensions reform.
Although the exercise will be seen by some as mere window dressing, Lib Dem insiders believe the language contained in the document will give a clear signal as to which policies will command the greatest political effort in the remaining years of the coalition.
In spite of dissent in the ranks, both Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg insisted the coalition would last the course; the prime minister also rejected “the analogy of a warring couple”.
Tensions are growing on the left of the Liberal Democrats and the right of the Tory party for the coalition to be brought to a premature end, but economic reality may force the two parties to stick it out.
If the coalition disintegrated in scenes of acrimony – and with the economy still in recession – Labour would almost certainly be the beneficiary.
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