The coalition has had a rough few weeks with incidents including pastygate, a charity tax, a ‘granny’ tax and Clegg taking a hit along with his beloved Lord’s reform. The makeup of the coalition however doesn’t make running the coalition any easier. On Newsnight this Monday, political editor Allegra Stratton outlined what seem to be the two biggest fault lines within the coalition government.
When David Cameron entered office, he seemed to signal a move back to cabinet government, abolishing the Strategy Unit and reducing the number of advisors in Number 10. However, it quickly become clear that without that capacity, departments were able to determine the direction of policy and Number 10 was left in a position of reacting to negative headlines. Consequently in February 2011 there were appointments of new policy advisors. Leading us to the first fault line…
The first fault line is the composition of the Number 10 policy unit. The policy unit used to consist of a large number of special advisors, however Cameron got rid of these special advisors (spads), leaving the number 10 policy unit dominated by civil servants. The impartiality of civil servants means their focus is more on policy not on party and not on how policies may play with the electorate. A change from Blair’s politicisation of number 10’s policy mechanisms. However, this impartiality comes at a cost. Has Cameron lost his ‘political antenna’? The recent policy failures may be, in part, down to civil servants who are not alerting him to the feelings of the public or the party rank and file.
The second fault line is the nature of coalition government and the increased opposition the Conservatives are facing from the Lib Dems within the coalition. There have been growing tensions between the two parties, starting all the way back during the AV vote, but more recently Vince Cable has expressed concerns and opposition regarding the charity tax and Nick Clegg hinting at pushing for changes to proposed new laws on email surveillance. This public opposition is challenging collective cabinet responsibility. The cracks are showing within the coalition and as we get closer to local elections, the Lib Dems are trying to project a more combative image. The Quad was meant to resolve these policy problems between the partners, but as public opinion becomes more hostile will we witness further tensions?
These two policy fault lines within the coalition illustrates how the power of the prime minister may be weakenned and the hazardous nature of policymaking within the coalition which may get worse as times get tough.