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Wednesday, May 12, 2010 

The shape of the Con-Dems to come.

The more you look at this Conservative-Liberal Democrat deal, or ConDem as it's bound to become known by its detractors, the more you wonder what on earth the Liberal Democrats have gotten themselves into. To say that the Conservatives are going to be holding the whip hand over a party that has little more than subjugated itself in an act of collective lust for power is not even close to being an exaggeration.

Nick Clegg emerges as by far the biggest winner, at least in the short term. Quite how often he's going to be appearing alongside David Cameron is impossible to tell, but he's the only one from his party to be even close to having a job that will make any great difference. Not because he's deputy prime minister, which has always been a vanity title, but through his apparent role in spearheading reform. Even that though is not going to be all that it seems: apart from fixed term parliaments, the only real reform which is already being set in any kind of motion, and the already agreed referendum on the alternative vote which the Liberal Democrats haven't got the slightest chance of winning, the rest is either thin or likely to be delayed indefinitely just like so much was under Labour. There'll be yet another committee on Lords reform, reporting by December but which you can bet will be put further back than that, yet another committee on the West Lothian question, and only then at the very bottom is there "then the radical devolution of power" which both have spent so much time promising. Not very encouraging just how far down the list it comes in reality, is it?

An indication of how far this is likely to be two parties working together in the "national interest" in practice is shown by the complete absence of Liberal Democrats from the great offices of state. This would have been a further encouraging concession to the party, being prepared to sacrifice a major position to show just how far they're willing to go to make this work. Instead, despite the rumours whirling around last night we have Theresa May as home secretary, which while an improvement on Chris Grayling is not even close to being Chris Huhne. Frankly, I didn't believe for a second that Huhne was ever going to be acceptable to the likes of the Sun, and so it has proved. May is however a complete unknown quantity, having never shadowed any sort of minister in the Home Office. Even more enlightening as to how the Conservatives are likely to shape law and order policy is how it doesn't even begin to rate a mention in the draft agreement - expect the party to be just as up the arse of the tabloids on the matter as New Labour ever was, and don't believe for a second that the Liberal Democrats will be able to temper them on it. Also worth noting that as well as home secretary May will also be minister for women and equality, which shows just how high up the government's agenda those two things will be - not even worthy of a full time job, and given to someone who has one of the most difficult portfolios of state.

Of the jobs which the Lib Dems have been able to snatch, the best of the bunch is undoubtedly Vince Cable as business secretary, but how he's going to work under the charmless and completely inexperienced George Osborne is anyone's guess. Alongside him for comfort will be David Laws, another of the "Orange Book" liberals that have so spectacularly triumphed and who will doubtless find themselves right at a home in a Conservative-run treasury. As for the two other cabinet positions which were made available to them, you can't really get a more uninspiring or thankless position than minister for Scotland under an erstwhile Tory government, and making Chris Huhne energy and climate change secretary is a masterstroke - all the blame can be laid on the Lib Dems for their failure to make any progress on either, while the Tories can happily ignore all of its previous commitments on the environment, which are naturally left until last in the draft agreement.

You need only look at the positions which have been filled by those from the right of the Tory party to see where the centre of gravity on so many issues is going to stand. It was always expected that William Hague would be foreign secretary, but as Nosemonkey points out, he's likely to be the most strongly Eurosceptic politician to have ever held that office, having ensured that the Conservatives left the mainstream EPP grouping in the European parliament and joined up with a band of minor right-wing parties described by none other than Nick Clegg as "a bunch of nutters, antisemites, people who deny climate change exists, [and] homophobes". Hague was strongly in favour of the Iraq war, and along with Liam Fox, the new defence secretary, is a member of the Atlantic Bridge, a neo-conservative organisation that recently celebrated the achievements of that well-known pacifist and humanitarian Henry Kissinger. Again, despite speculation that David Laws might be education secretary, Michael Gove ascended to his natural place from where he will attempt to institute the "free schools" plan that Sweden is in the process of doing away with because of the corresponding drop in exam results. Oh, and he's another member of the Atlantic Bridge and probably the most staunch neo-con of the whole bunch, having written the perfect counterpart to Melanie Phillips' opus Londonistan, Celsius 7/7. Those on benefits almost certainly have the most to fear, though: not just Iain Duncan-Smith as Work and Pensions secretary, but Chris Grayling as his underling, and with a section in the draft agreement which shows that the Liberal Democrats having completely acquiesced and given the Tories free rein to introduce their plans for welfare reform. If you thought Labour through their rigging of the successor to incapacity benefit were bad, as those terminally ill are currently being declared fit to work, then you haven't seen anything yet. The most vulnerable and those who can't help themselves that Cameron promised repeatedly to look after seem certain to be the very first to suffer under the Con-Dem coalition.

Just where then are all the concessions that the Lib Dems were so certain they had grabbed? They got their pupil premium, somewhat got their raising of the income tax threshold to £10,000 which is going to be achieved in stages which might yet be delayed, but what else is there? They certainly haven't got a guarantee that the inheritance tax threshold won't be raised later, they're allowed to abstain on the marriage tax allowance, which will mean it will almost certainly get passed, they've got nothing on Trident, which seems to have been one of their first sacrifices, only an independent commission on breaking up the banks, nothing on immigration other than a welcome end to the detention of children for immigration purposes, but that's another thing to be believed once it happens, and only a guarantee that they'll be able to abstain on the possible raising of tuition fees. So much for abolishing them, even as an aspiration! It's true that we can't ignore the incredibly welcome section in the agreement on civil liberties, but even parts of that are flaky. They've also given in on the DNA database by agreeing on adopting the Scottish model, which will mean that the profiles of the innocent will still be added to it, just for 3 years instead of Labour's proposed 6. There's also something missing from the section on civil liberties: the Human Rights Act, which the Tories promised to repeal. That it isn't mentioned is deeply worrying. As is the complete absence of anything on media policy: the support of the Murdoch press for the Tories won't have come cheaply, and the cutting of the BBC down to size is an even grimmer prospect of what might be to come.

Where does all this leave the Liberal Democrats? At a stroke they've lost the biggest reason for students to vote for them, while in Scotland their chances of keeping their seats must be growing dimmer by the hour. After all, if a Lab-Lib coalition would have had no legitimacy in England, then a Con-Dem equivalent has even less in Scotland. They haven't even got a completely fireproof agreement to fall back which guarantees this coalition will last for the full term: even with the change to 55% of parliament having to vote for an election in order to get one, should the Tories fall out with the Libs they'll easily get a dissolution with the support of Labour, who must be ecstatic with how things have turned out, almost guaranteed that they'll pick up seats at the expense of a party which has had its head turned by the very first glimpse of power. Nick Clegg seems to have been dazzled by the supposed concessions, and by the chance of being deputy, but that doesn't excuse the entirety of the parliamentary party which also went along with him. The activist base, the parts of it that haven't instantly defected, must be terrified at what lies ahead for them whenever this agreement breaks down, especially if it does last the full 5 years and the cuts are every bit as harsh as they promise to be. If the 1983 Labour manifesto was the longest suicide note in history, then the Con-Dem deal might turn out to be the one which takes the most time to be acted upon.

As for our new double act and who they most resemble, you can't help but predict that they might well turn out to be Steptoe and Son, with Cameron as Albert and Clegg as Harold. Everyone knows that the central arc of the show, that Harold couldn't escape however he tried from his father, turned into life imitating art when Harry H. Corbett became typecast in his role and found himself stuck alongside a man who he genuinely couldn't stand, resulting in a disastrous Australian tour. Cameron clearly has nothing to lose, and his party is unlikely to be too damaged by any deal, its base still there, while Clegg is putting absolutely everything at risk by joining a partnership which he has next to no control over. He faces being stuck in the shadow of Cameron for the rest of his life, having acted as his fluffer while potentially consigning his own party to oblivion. Will it be worth it, either for the policy concessions he's achieved, or for the good of the country, as is if that ever really came into it? We might know far sooner than Clegg has to hope we will.

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This was quite a long comment, apologies, and have had to split up into chunks.

This seems a fairly unbalanced post for you.

"the already agreed referendum on the alternative vote which the Liberal Democrats haven't got the slightest chance of winning"

I find that overly pessimistic.

"There'll be yet another committee on Lords reform, reporting by December but which you can bet will be put further back than that"

If you actually read the wording of the agreement, you'll see there's every indication of this happening, with mention of "motions" and "bill".

Secondly, how can you know it'll be put further back? Skepticism is all well and good, and you may even be right, but if the agreement says they will do X, and you don't believe it will happen, then nothing the agreement could ever have said would convince you X will happen.

Also, no mention that the proposal for the Lords is for proportional representation.

"yet another committee on the West Lothian question"

True, but then if we'd had a Lib Dem government we would've had this addressed at a constitutional convention. And for me, I would like to see regional parliaments, and for that to happen, there has to be extensive consultation in some form.

Also, this is a better arrangement than the Tory one which would've created two classes of MPs.

"and only then at the very bottom is there "then the radical devolution of power" which both have spent so much time promising. Not very encouraging just how far down the list it comes in reality, is it?"

You're judging the agreement based on the location of different proposals in the agreement? Come on, you've got to it admit that such a judgement is frivolous. Are there also political ramifications from the font being Times New Roman?

And the logic of this criticism would mean that the Conservative party are more happy with the government being a "positive participant in the European Union" than not joining the euro.

Both parties already agreed there had to be some form of devolution/decentralization as you said, so anyway I expect not much on it was discussed during the meetings before Brown resigned. And today Cameron has appointed a Minister for Decentralisation.

Also, there is stuff specifically there on further Welsh and Scottish devolution, the Wright Committee's proposals are agreed to too, which is devolution in some sense too. There are some less obvious examples of devolution in other sections of the agreement too.

"This would have been a further encouraging concession to the party, being prepared to sacrifice a major position to show just how far they're willing to go to make this work"

While it would've been nice to have seen Home Secretary Huhne or similar, this would've been more superficial than any policy agreement. Implementing policies we like is surely more important.

Plus, this rather contradicts your initial claim about a "lust for power".

"Even more enlightening as to how the Conservatives are likely to shape law and order policy is how it doesn't even begin to rate a mention in the draft agreement"

Well yes, there's no specific law and order section, and so there's some uncertainty there, but there is stuff on that issue in other sections if you look carefully.

And don't forget that there is more detail to come over the coming days.

"expect the party to be just as up the arse of the tabloids on the matter as New Labour ever was"

Maybe. A fair chunk of civil liberties look likely to be restored, so at the moment I much prefer Cameron's triangulation than Blair's triangulation.

"Alongside him for comfort will be David Laws, another of the "Orange Book" liberals that have so spectacularly triumphed and who will doubtless find themselves right at a home in a Conservative-run treasury."

You know, just because he's in the Orange Book doesn't make him okay with Conservative economic "philosophy". There's nothing particularly evil about the book, and in fact Chris Huhne contributed also, but you can't point that out because he's considered left of centre and that would be inconvenient for your thesis.

And I don't know why you think the Orange Book people have "spectacularly triumphed", if by that you mean the political philosophy its associated with. Look at the manifesto: there was lots on taxing the wealthy, helping those on low incomes, and they were by far the toughest on banks and bankers. And from that people seem to think they're more "economically liberal" than under previous leaders.

Perhaps by "triumphed" you meant this deal with the Tories. Well, since the left of the party agreed to it also, then I think they would disagree.

David Laws is in the Treasury because he used to work in the City, and so he has a damn site more experience than Osborne.

"making Chris Huhne energy and climate change secretary is a masterstroke - all the blame can be laid on the Lib Dems for their failure to make any progress on either, while the Tories can happily ignore all of its previous commitments on the environment"

I bet if they'd put a Tory there instead, you'd be saying how that showed how unseriously they'd take the issue of climate change. Of course, you could look at the actual agreement as there's quite a lot on this issue. But anti-tory rage seems to be blinding you.

And yet again a claim nothing will happen (like with the Lords). Maybe. Maybe not. But I have to ask again: what agreement would've made you at least cautiously optimistic that things were going to happen on particular issues? What could it have said that would have made you be less skeptical than you are in the above the quoted paragraph?

"the Liberal Democrats having completely acquiesced and given the Tories free rein to introduce their plans for welfare reform. If you thought Labour through their rigging of the successor to incapacity benefit were bad, as those terminally ill are currently being declared fit to work, then you haven't seen anything yet."

Perhaps, but then there's a lot of stuff in the agreement that Labour were doing already to some extent, like welfare to work programmes. So this could be worrying, but we'll see.

Also, I'm not sure it's fair to say that the Lib Dems have "completely acquiesced" on this part. There's stuff on pensions for instance. It should be said too that the £10,000 idea is in part designed to reduce marginal tax rates on those on low incomes as they quickly lose benefits and get taxed when they go into work.

"They got their pupil premium"

They didn't just get it, they're getting it from outside the schools budget.

"somewhat got their raising of the income tax threshold to £10,000 which is going to be achieved in stages which might yet be delayed"

Why might it be delayed? Because it's a good policy agreed, and therefore you must flail around for some criticism? I'm noticing a pattern, what with the same rhetorical technique used on Lords reform etc.

And why is it always the Lib Dem policies that are likely to be dropped? Why not the same skepticism on the ones the Tories got too?

"they're allowed to abstain on the marriage tax allowance, which will mean it will almost certainly get passed"

True, and it is an absurd policy on every level. But it is only £3 per week. Yes £0 would have been better, but £3 isn't much. And if I remember correctly, the Conservatives wanted to fund this through a tax on non-doms, so this stupid policy would at least end up being a teeny tiny bit redistributive. I guess this is to please the Tim Montgomeries of this world. If this is the worst of social conservatism that we see, then that'll be fine.

"they've got nothing on Trident"

Untrue. It says they "have agreed that the renewal of Trident should be scrutinised to ensure value for money". That is almost the position of the Lib Dems in their manifesto. They've also been allowed to speak out against Trident (like they can abstain on marriage tax break) - that may sound trivial, but politically that's an important distinction for them, and these little things do seem to suggest we may see a government with more speaking out compared to the past. Less collective responsibility is a good thing.

Also, the stuff on multilateral disarmament is quite strong.

"only an independent commission on breaking up the banks"

Yes, but both parties agree that it has to be done in some way (admittedly, the Tories only came out for it after Obama did). This has more the feel to it of "exactly how should we break them up" rather than "whether we should break them up". I think having Mervyn King pushing for it will also help. Also, it talks of separating "retail and investment", when the original Obama proposal they agreed with, the Volcker rule, is narrower as I understand it, as it talks of separating "proprietary trading" from everything else.

But there's also a hell of a lot more on banking that you've missed.

"nothing on immigration other than a welcome end to the detention of children for immigration purposes, but that's another thing to be believed once it happens"

They were unlikely to get much on immigration - it is one of the Conservatives' key issues. And I would say that whatever government we had would've continued silly immigration policies and rhetoric, so this part was almost inevitable.

And again with the "another thing to be believed once it happens". Why not just say that for every single policy?

"only a guarantee that they'll be able to abstain on the possible raising of tuition fees."

It's a bit more than that. If Lord Browne comes back and recommends they stay the same, or are abolished, then they may well be. The government's response also has to be based on a number of admirable qualities.

But again, that they will be able to speak out against any bad reforms is a good thing.

"So much for abolishing them, even as an aspiration!"

It's a myth that it was an "aspiration" for the Lib Dems, they wanted it done over 6 years, abolishing the final year's tuition fees on the first year of a parliament, and then in stages from there. So it was more than an aspiration.

Can I also just say that abolishing tuition fees shouldn't be seen as some great progressive cause? It would only really benefit the middle class. Government finances are tight, and as a student myself while I think a way to abolish them could be found, I'd not be dismayed if they aren't. As someone of parents on low incomes, I wouldn't really benefit from their abolition. However, if fees really rise, then what is done to accommodate that could make me change my mind.

"There's also something missing from the section on civil liberties: the Human Rights Act, which the Tories promised to repeal. That it isn't mentioned is deeply worrying."

Hmm, maybe. But Ken Clarke is Justice Secretary, and that is hugely positive for HRA's future considering his previous comments on the proposal to scrap it.

Perhaps it wasn't mentioned because the Tories want to bury any mention of keeping HRA until Middle England is looking the other way. I did get a feel whenever they talked about this proposal that they knew they were talking nonsense.

I'd also be very surprised if Nick Clegg and the whole parliamentary Lib Dems agreed to a deal where the future of HRA was uncertain or worse. If it wasn't a red line for them then your view will make more sense, and I will be more angry.

"the support of the Murdoch press for the Tories won't have come cheaply"

I don't know about that. What did Blair give them when he got their backing?

"the cutting of the BBC down to size is an even grimmer prospect of what might be to come"

Perhaps, but "national unity" - or whatever - may include protecting the BBC. We'll see.

"At a stroke they've lost the biggest reason for students to vote for them"

Well, as I said I'm a student, and if they keep to this deal, then I'll likely still vote for them. But yes, other students may be annoyed, mainly wrongly in my opinion.

But it's hard to see who else they should vote for on this point. They could go for smaller parties than the Lib Dems, but they would have even less chance of getting it implemented by a future government.

And even if tuition fees stay after Lord Browne publishes his report, the Lib Dem party itself hasn't dropped its opposition to them, and so in a future election, the more seats the Lib Dems get, the more likely they'll be able to follow through and abolish them.

"while in Scotland their chances of keeping their seats must be growing dimmer by the hour. After all, if a Lab-Lib coalition would have had no legitimacy in England, then a Con-Dem equivalent has even less in Scotland."

True, but a problem like this would've existed no matter what government came out of this Hung Parliament. Also, because of the West Lothian problem, and because England has so much larger a population than Scotland, legitimacy in England is more crucial.

"They haven't even got a completely fireproof agreement to fall back which guarantees this coalition will last for the full term: even with the change to 55% of parliament having to vote for an election in order to get one, should the Tories fall out with the Libs they'll easily get a dissolution with the support of Labour"

Firstly, you can't guarantee the coalition will last the full term. Unless you want a real constitution (which I agree with you if you do) then you can't get rid of parliamentary sovereignty - Parliament could pass a law mandating an election at fixed dates, but then if the Tories and Labour wanted to, they could repeal it and have an election.

And on the point of Labour, I think you're assuming too much. Will there be infighting in the Labour party? If they're too critical, will the public see them going against the national interest? Will they stick with their illiberal policies? If (big if) the economy starts properly growing, what then? Will their leader be popular? Any pain from cuts won't really come until later in the Parliament, so they can't get much gain out of that until then. There's too much uncertainty to know whether Labour and the Government will end up in the right positions for them to take the coalition down.

Never mind that the whole point of this agreement is so that if, say, the Tories screw it up, the Lib Dems can hold it up and endlessly ask how can the public trust David Cameron's word. And clips from days like yesterday will be put on loop to show him as a hypocrite. That is a powerful incentive for the Tories to keep to their word.

"Nick Clegg seems to have been dazzled by the supposed concessions"

Let's have a look at those "supposed concessions", or at least the ones you missed:

* Triple guaranteee on pensions
* Per-plane duty
* Big increase in capital gains tax
* Lib Dem plans on tax avoidance
* Action on bank bonuses. Cable was very strong on bonuses, so we'll see what this entails.
* Financial Services Authority not to be abolished
* Again, can't say it enough, but PR for the Lords. And "In the interim, Lords appointments will be made with the objective of creating a second chamber reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election".
* Wright Committee proposals
* More Scottish and Welsh devolution
* And this definitely can't be said this enough, but the fact you're silent on this part says a lot: "The parties will tackle lobbying through introducing a statutory register of lobbyists. We also agree to pursue a detailed agreement on limiting donations and reforming party funding in order to remove big money from politics." What will come from that exactly I don't know, but getting agreement on this point is pretty substantial.
* Promise to repatriate the Social Chapter is not there.
* Extension of the Freedom of Information Act.
* "A new mechanism to prevent the proliferation of unnecessary new criminal offences" - I know you already mentioned civil liberties, but that surely has law and order ramifications beyond regular civil liberties.
* Not a concession, but third runway at Heathrow gone.
* "The provision of a floor price for carbon, as well as efforts to persuade the EU to move towards full auctioning of ETS permits."
* "a specific commitment to reduce central government carbon emissions by 10 per cent within 12 months"
* If Climate Change Committe agrees, higher renewables target.
* Green investment bank

A Conservative party approved all that. Maybe that means it's too good to be true, but I prefer the wait-and-see approach to your approach.

And let's also just clear one thing up. We would be in a worse position if we'd had a minority Conservative government. I mean think about. First budget, they would've filled it with all sorts like their Inheritance tax cut, and challenged the Lib Dems to vote it down. If they did, the Tories would scream blue murder about how they wanted us to lose our credit rating, the markets would start going loopy, and businessman after businessman would be wheeled out to condemn the Lib Dems. The Tories would soon sweep back into power with a majority, and we'd get almost none of the above, and worse policies than the compromises the Lib Dems had to make.

Should've said: that was the last part.

Pretty sure you could have done that all in one comment or two, but eh, that's a fair old fisk. Am tired so will give a proper response tomorrow, but I don't believe for a second that the Tories would have dared to put the IHT in their very first budget had they been a minority: for the very reason that if it was then voted down it would become an even bigger deal in a subsequent election, and for the fact that the Tories wouldn't want another election until the autumn at the earliest. Besides, you've forgotten Labour in that scenario, who will probably vote against a budget because of the cutting this year in any scenario, one of the few things you missed out which the Lib Dems have come into line with the Tories on.

OK, here goes:

"I find that overly pessimistic."

Maybe; if it's at the same time as local elections next year as the Lib Dems currently hope, then turnout might be a major factor, with those who want a change far more likely to turn up than those satisfied with the status quo. The likely scenario however is that it's going to be the Lib Dems/Graun/Independent in favour against everyone else, which is hardly a winning coalition.

"If you actually read the wording of the agreement, you'll see there's every indication of this happening, with mention of "motions" and "bill".

Secondly, how can you know it'll be put further back? Skepticism is all well and good, and you may even be right, but if the agreement says they will do X, and you don't believe it will happen, then nothing the agreement could ever have said would convince you X will happen.

Also, no mention that the proposal for the Lords is for proportional representation."

Let's put it this way: Labour come to power in 97 with much the same plans and they came to nothing, partially because they no longer needed to change the system to such an extent but also because other things got in the way. If the economy takes another nose dive then the last thing which is going to be occupying the minds of the coalition is changing the House of Lords. I did indeed miss out PR, but also didn't mention the plans for 200 new peers before that, on top of the overwhelming majority the Tories + Lib Dems have in the Lords.

"You're judging the agreement based on the location of different proposals in the agreement? Come on, you've got to it admit that such a judgement is frivolous. Are there also political ramifications from the font being Times New Roman?"

You're right, it is a relatively frivolous criticism, but it's probably my natural cynicism winning over on most of these things; such is to expected after 13 years of Labour government and when the Tories should be trusted about as much as a fox in a chicken coop.

"While it would've been nice to have seen Home Secretary Huhne or similar, this would've been more superficial than any policy agreement. Implementing policies we like is surely more important.

Plus, this rather contradicts your initial claim about a "lust for power"."

Really? Surely the whole implementation of policies is inextricably linked to the person pushing them through and who has to argue for them; can you imagine Huhne feeling comfortable doing some of the things that May almost certainly will end up doing? Wouldn't it have been better to have someone from the Lib Dems in the great offices of state at the very heart of government and so able to act as a balance against the Tories' worst instincts? It also doesn't really contradict my lust for power theory; the Lib Dems have just taken what they could get, which isn't much.

"You know, just because he's in the Orange Book doesn't make him okay with Conservative economic "philosophy". There's nothing particularly evil about the book, and in fact Chris Huhne contributed also, but you can't point that out because he's considered left of centre and that would be inconvenient for your thesis.

And I don't know why you think the Orange Book people have "spectacularly triumphed", if by that you mean the political philosophy its associated with. Look at the manifesto: there was lots on taxing the wealthy, helping those on low incomes, and they were by far the toughest on banks and bankers. And from that people seem to think they're more "economically liberal" than under previous leaders."

If by lots on taxing the wealthy you mean cracking down on tax evasion (very difficult) and the mansion tax (now abandoned), as that was about it. Helping those on low incomes went about as far as the £10,000 tax threshold, which helps the wealthier far more than it helps the poorest. The point remains that those associated with the Orange Book (including Huhne, who tacked left for his leadership challenge) are those that have gotten the most powerful jobs and come out of this
the best. Steve Webb's been about the only true left Lib Dem from the party to have gotten a ministerial job.

"Perhaps, but then there's a lot of stuff in the agreement that Labour were doing already to some extent, like welfare to work programmes. So this could be worrying, but we'll see.

Also, I'm not sure it's fair to say that the Lib Dems have "completely acquiesced" on this part. There's stuff on pensions for instance. It should be said too that the £10,000 idea is in part designed to reduce marginal tax rates on those on low incomes as they quickly lose benefits and get taxed when they go into work."

I'm not the only one who thinks they've completely acquiesced, Don Paskins says exactly the same thing, and makes his point even more powerfully: http://don-paskini.blogspot.com/2010/05/lib-dems-surrender-to-tory-right-on.html Steve Webb has incidentally been made pensions minister, presumably as a sop to possible concerns, but pensioners have never been so well off, and are hardly going to be the first to suffer from the cuts, although the winter fuel allowance could well go.

"Because it's a good policy agreed, and therefore you must flail around for some criticism? I'm noticing a pattern, what with the same rhetorical technique used on Lords reform etc."

No, because it involves raising spending when Osborne has already set out that tackling the deficit is going to be the overwhelming priority. Delaying it might well be one of the very first sacrifices.

"And again with the "another thing to be believed once it happens". Why not just say that for every single policy?"

Because ending the detention of children is something that could be done practically overnight. It requires no legislation to end it, that's for certain.

"It's a bit more than that. If Lord Browne comes back and recommends they stay the same, or are abolished, then they may well be. The government's response also has to be based on a number of admirable qualities."

Too bad then that all the indications are that Lord Browne will suggest they should be put up.

Hmm, maybe. But Ken Clarke is Justice Secretary, and that is hugely positive for HRA's future considering his previous comments on the proposal to scrap it.

Perhaps it wasn't mentioned because the Tories want to bury any mention of keeping HRA until Middle England is looking the other way. I did get a feel whenever they talked about this proposal that they knew they were talking nonsense."

Agreed, Ken Clarke as justice secretary is a bonus, but even the great Clarke is not averse to pushing through legislation he disagrees with is he ordered to.

"I don't know about that. What did Blair give them when he got their backing?"

A promise not to interfere with his business interests just to begin with; the only thing Labour did stop was Sky's takeover of Manchester United, and that was more to do with the fans as well as the conflict of interest. Cameron has already promised the abolition of Ofcom, although Sky has somewhat come to an agreement now over the cutting of the wholesale price of Sky Sports etc. The bonfire of the quangos is one of the things which is missing from these agreements.

"True, but a problem like this would've existed no matter what government came out of this Hung Parliament. Also, because of the West Lothian problem, and because England has so much larger a population than Scotland, legitimacy in England is more crucial."

Well yes, but that doesn't affect the chances of the Lib Dems keeping their seats north of the border.

"* "A new mechanism to prevent the proliferation of unnecessary new criminal offences" - I know you already mentioned civil liberties, but that surely has law and order ramifications beyond regular civil liberties."

A "new mechanism" says it all about how far that's likely to go. How will this new mechanism even begin to work, especially when the tabloids start screaming about the latest moral panic and demand instant legislation? I might be too pessimistic but I think you're being far too optimistic.

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