Coalition: Official - it's not a marriage


Nick Robinson witnesses the pair "still laughing at each other's jokes"

It's not a marriage. It never was. They were never in love so they are not renewing their vows.

That, in summary, is the reaction inside Downing Street to how the media, including me, have spoken about today's joint news conference to be held at Downing Street by David Cameron and Nick Clegg.

The coalition was, the official line goes, always a business partnership forced on both sides by events. Today is, therefore, a business-like review of goals achieved, those still to be met and a few new ones.

The reason this debate about terminology is revealing is that both sides of this coalition have concluded that all this talk of marriage is toxic as it invites hacks like me to conclude that the Tory and Lib Dem partners are still "in love" - something which infuriates many of their natural supporters - or preparing to "divorce" in the run-up to the next election.

The Cameron/Clegg talk of their strengthened "shared purpose" was, of course, always going to make it hard to resist the temptation to ask whether both men are protesting too much. I doubt that many hacks today will resist.

Put to one side the debates about metaphors: what is the state of the coalition?

Last year's public rows about voting systems, House of Lords reform, boundary changes and Leveson fuelled the idea that this government was beginning to fall apart. Whisper who dares, it is not. In fact, relations at the top of this government are better than in many single party governments (led by Wilson, Heath, Thatcher, Major to name a few) faced with a comparable record of economic woe.

Read back that list of coalition disagreements and it reminds you that they were issues on the margins of most voters' concerns whereas there is a surprising degree of cross party agreement on macro-economic policy, welfare cuts and schools reform let alone the proposals the two men will highlight today - be it childcare subsidies, pension reform or road tolls.

That is not to say that all is well in the coalition rose garden. It is not. However well the partners get on, their extended families (sorry, here I go again) can't stand the sight of each other. Many Tories believe their leader betrayed them when he got into bed with Nick Clegg. And now there's a new man trying to woo those whose hearts have been broken - that smooth talking, blazer wearing, risqué man puffing on an untipped cigarette and holding a pint of real English ale. I speak, of course, of Mr Nigel Farage of UKIP.

Unlike any marriage or business partnership or, indeed, any post war government, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats know not just that they are doomed to split, not just the date (May 2015) but also that to regain lost support they need to convince people (or relatives or shareholders - take your pick) that whilst they are not in love, whilst there is much they don't agree on they are still capable of doing an awful lot together.

PS Interesting news that Lord Hill is replacing Lord Strathclyde as Leader of the House of Lords. Jonathan Hill was political secretary to a prime minister who was caught referring to four members of the cabinet as "bastards." After life at John Major's side, handling Lib Dem peers should feel like a doddle.

Nick Robinson, Political editor Article written by Nick Robinson Nick Robinson Political editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    178 Billythefirst

    Sorry but I don't understand your comments.

    What is the Labour/Tory inertia policy you mention ?
    And how does my post 170 relate to "failure to apply the law of fraud" and the "compelling" need for "some sort of action" ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    Pickled - are you suggesting that because Labour got it wrong the tories should continue with their inertia policy?Factor in the failure to apply the law of fraud with what we now know about the CDO Cubers, and the case for some sort of action seems compelling.

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    Thing is, we the population expect and believe that politics is about the running of a machine (in our interest) Unfortunately the guys that get to manage this machine need to understand, parties are now about choice of society, greedy, caring, matter what we have amassed at the time of our demise only those that know us will ever have an opinion hope is..........they will remember

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    1. Rob

    The coalition has survived up until now mainly on the willingness of both leaders to alienate their natural supporters.
    Irrelevant when the Corporates and Barons press the buttons.
    Libs inconsequential unfortunately.

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.


    "Do you agree that the deficit did not appear to be a problem till after the 2010 election."

    No. With an economy financed by a ponzi scheme and a PG Tips advert of a govt, I'd say it was very much a problem before 2010. Perhaps you're confusing this with the fact they made no real effort to address the problem before then ? I'd certainly agree with that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    # Terry 2 you're using hindsight here. Whatever Brown and Balls did or didn't do about regulating the Banks, as a London Commuter, the constant refrain in the very right wing Evening Standard, backed up by numerous articles from 'financial experts' including John Redwood was "REMOVE THE DEAD HAND OF GOVERNMENT CONTROL FROM THE CITY"
    We were lucky to get any regulation at all!

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    #169 ToryBoy
    "He is clearly out to destroy the system that helps our people in most need"

    That's because helping out those in most need annoys the hell out of those in least need - it's the Tory way!

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    1 Hour ago
    ". Labour be if they were in power now pushing a 33% reduction?
    Where would Ed’ have made the cuts?"

    You are missing the point : we would not starting from here then, this is an Economic mess made 100% by the Tories - a Chancellor out of his depth, knows nothing about Economics only Politics & Tory ideology.
    The Devil’s in the detail (or lack of it).

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    167. The deficit was clearly a problem before the 2010 election, since it was evident since 2001. Brown used to get around this problem by talking about economic cycles - but changed the goal posts so the cycle fell within the range he wanted. The banking crisis exacerbated every problem that it touched. No wonder Ed Balls apologised for failing to regulate the banks properly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    164 ToryBoy

    "Your reference to Dr Brown is not 'strictly' true."

    "...... respond to your call for draconian regulation of business life "
    ???? Where have I made this "call" ?

    'Masters of the Universe' in the banking industry"
    Ah yes. You mean like Fred Goodwin, knighted by NewLabour for services to banking ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 169.

    No166 forgotten
    'cuts alone ...balance books'
    You have a good right to be worried.
    Cuts alone will reduce demand, leading to more business closures and unemployment, increasing social costs, reducing tax revenue and, therefore, making the deficit problem worse.
    'Pasty George' knows that.
    He is clearly out to destroy the system that helps our people in most need.

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    #167 ToryBoy - the collapse of the world economy, the wrong sort of weather, totally unexpected bank holidays etc,etc have only causedr failures in THIS Governments economic plans.
    They all started in 2010 and not a moment before!
    Ministry of Truth - 08/01/2013

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    No165 Terry,
    I can assure you that I am extremely interested in your answer.
    Come on - collapse of world economy or UK government spending?
    Do you agree that the deficit did not appear to be a problem till after the 2010 election.
    Can you refer me to any of David's speeches on the issue made before the election?

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    159. TerryNo2
    & let’s not forget the important balance of trade deficit mentioned by 162 as well.
    Unfortunately the current Gov’ is placing all bets on the belief that cuts alone will balance the books, but the figures still aren’t adding up.
    I know it’s an unpopular question, but where will the next cuts be when these current ones fail to deliver the desired results?
    It's worrying.

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    # 161 Since Labour had incurred current account deficits since 2001, I reckon it is safe to assume they were storing up a criss. The world's financial crisis just made a desperate situation a lot worse.

    Didn't Alistair Darling say as much - in 2008?

    See here:

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    No154 Strictly
    Your reference to Dr Brown is not 'strictly' true.
    How do you think the free market neoliberal fanatics will respond to your call for draconian regulation of business life particularlly the former 'Masters of the Universe' in the banking industry who led the world to near disaster?
    Are you suggesting that the banks should have been allowed to implode?

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.


    Mock-approval, "Benefit for unexpected"
    But "terrible circumstances" common
    Job-creation failure + unfair pay

    No incentive to take job
    Even to go on looking for interview

    All "trapped"
    None securely belonging
    Some "on benefits", low pay no pay
    Or worse, high paid, "entitled"
    Worst, in government

    "Together" no problem
    Challenge shared
    Equal Partners

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    159 TerryNo2
    Not to mention the £55b deficit on the Balance of Trade. Trade imbalances have a low profile these days but the scale of the UK deficit in a period of relatively low economic activity is horrendous.
    We have been consuming imported goods way beyond our means so that Gordon Brown could say the economy was growing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    No159 Terry,
    I have a simple question for you, was it the collapse of the world's economy or UK government spending that has placed our economy in such a parlous state?
    You answer will indicate knowledge and understanding of the issue or simply your right to express an opinion.
    Were all parties committed to same level of public expenditure?

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    # 159. And just saying "sorry" all the time for the mess we're in which Labour created just doesn't cut it.


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