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Coalition seems very good at taking aim at itself


The Coalition government is blitzing us with policy announcements in a style all too reminiscent – at least for me – of the worst PR excesses of the Blair years. I often think this policy-a-day approach drives the electorate away, never more so when they are badly handled. And this week has been very badly handled.

David Cameron and Nick Clegg got the week off on the wrong foot with their content-free mid-term relaunch of the Coalition. It looked as if it was a hastily arranged PR initiative with little thought given as to just how it was going to meet the quickly set expectations. Consequently, it disappointed and served little purpose apart from reaffirming the commitment to deliver genuine deficit-reduction, something that could have been done just as effectively without all the hype.

To start the first week of the New Year with an attempt to be upbeat and positive might be very laudable but why schedule another grim reminder of the social cost of their unbending austerity programme the next day? The 1% cap on benefit increases looks a very blunt and indiscriminate instrument and will not do much to endear the Coalition to anyone outside of the Tory right. Almost immediately any gloss that might have been applied by Cameron and Clegg's 'Ronseal' comment has been wiped away.

They also failed to take account of the problems they both have within their own parties and how this might bite them hard this week.

Parties aren't united behind their leaders
It is hard to believe that Lord Strathclyde - who resigned as Tory leader in the House of Lords on the same day as the relaunch - hadn't forewarned the Prime Minister. If he didn't then Cameron's problems in the Lords, where many Tory peers are fed-up with the Liberal Democrats voting against their own government, are more serious than Lord Strathclyde's resignation letter hints.

Surely, too, Clegg must have known that some of his higher-profile MPs would vote against the benefit cap? He has been left looking closer to a Tory Prime Minister than to many of his own MPs, including former leader Charles Kennedy. Are we seeing the seeds of a lasting split in the Liberal Democrats being sown? I know people mock at the suggestion that we might see some form of electoral pact between the Coalition partners in 2015 but hasn't that just moved a step closer?

You could add to the 'bad week' list the rail investment announcement, in which good news is once again knocked aside by the bad news. We have just had a serious backlash against the above-inflation fare increases at the start of the month so what does the government do? It announces even more fare increases, probably leaving many rail travellers wondering whether they will ever be able to afford to benefit from the investment programme.

Miliband having an easy ride
Labour has to do little more than sit on the sidelines, occasionally stirring the pot, to benefit from this. Ed Miliband is under remarkably little pressure to come up with a clear alternative strategy with policies to match and even feels bullish enough to announce that it is targeting 106 seats as potential gains in the 2015 General Election.

All that said, the Coalition is a bold experiment for British politics, and something that our electorate has been effectively seeking for years as it has denied any party a majority of its votes, only to be thwarted in seeing its wishes carried through by our deeply-flawed electoral system. It does look as if it will last the course, even if a few Lib Dems fall out of the nest along the way, and that might encourage people to believe that coalitions can work even if they got the wrong one this time round. This could see increased shares in the popular vote for UKIP and the Greens and might even help prevent a complete haemorrhage of Liberal Democrat votes.

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