Side-by-side, but looking apart?
- 8 May 2012
- From the section UK Politics
UPDATE: As predicted below, gone was the sunshine, gone were the smiles, gone was the effortless optimism of two years ago in the Downing Street rose garden.
In its place David Cameron and Nick Clegg wanted to show quite simply that they "get it". So, in less than a minute the prime minister used the word "difficult" seven times.
There was no new policy announced, simply a renewal of coalition vows in economic sickness as well as in health.
That and a striking claim that the new president of France was on the same and not a different path to Britain - which may be why the prime minister challenged my description of his policy as "austerity" and insisted that it was in fact "efficiency".
The Essex factory the two men visited today is expanding. Its visitors' problems stem from the fact that the British economy is not.
1101 BST: The sun will not be shining as it was two years ago. The smiles will not be on faces. There will be an earnest rededication of the central mission of the coalition - but with the emphasis this time less on dealing with the deficit than on getting the economy moving again.
That tells its own story.
Both David Cameron and Nick Clegg know that for all the talk of House of Lords reform or gay marriage, the reality of their problem is that the economy is not shifting and they've got to get it to move.
They'll say the answer to that is not to change their deficit reduction strategy but to redouble their efforts on things like banking reform, getting credit moving and getting infrastructure built.
But there's a disjunction between what goes on in parliament day to day and what the coalition wants to tell the electorate they're doing to get the economy moving.
The great difficulty for this government is that its parliamentary agenda for the next year, as presented in the Queen's Speech tomorrow, may look completely divorced from what they say are its priorities and that its supporters care about.
Why? Because you end up with bills that are the result of coalition negotiations to, for example, reform the House of Lords.
It's possible to carry out that reform at the same time as getting the economy moving. But if it prompts a row between and within both coalition parties then it'll be a row that makes it on to the main news bulletins, and it may look as though your priorities are completely different from the public's.
There's one other difficulty facing the Lib Dems in particular - an argument within the party about how it recovers.
Do you recover by "making a success of the coalition" (being prepared to allow your identity to be hidden a little but at least being able to gain credit for what went well come the next election) or do you say we have to constantly differentiate ourselves, constantly remind the public how we're distinct, but of course with the result that that then encourages the Conservatives to do the same, breeding mutual resentment.
That debate is still taking place around Nick Clegg.