Thursday, 20 May 2010

A Government of all the Commissions

Straight from the the Coalition press conference on their programme for government.I counted the words "commission" or "review" twenty three times in the Con-Lib Coalition document as David Cameron and his colleagues outlined a brave new world that will keep committee rooms in Whitehall fully occupied for years.

There are also lots of promises and commitments in the programme for government, but they all come with the rider that reducing the deficit is the top priority for the government.

There's a big green box at end of the 34 page document that states the "deficit reduction takes precedence over any of the other measures in this agreement". It translates the rest of the agreement as: "we'd like to do this but..."

That page also acknowledges the devolved nature of government and recognises that many of the decisions and policies of this new government now apply to England only.

So lots of the health, crime and policing and education policies in the coalition won't apply to Scotland, although you will find that some run parallel to Scottish government priorities.

For example, there's agreement with the SNP on reviewing alcohol pricing and banning the sale of alcohol below cost price - the big minimum pricing row in the Scottish parliament.

Safely parked are issues like the West Lothian/English Votes question and the fossil fuel levy in these timeless reviews and commissions.

Perhaps I'm being too cynical about the Cam-Clegg partnership. Both men, when they speak, appear seriously committed to trying to achieve change in the political system and in working in what Cameron referred to as "the national interest".

Their respective parties hate them for getting on together so well, and the fracture lines we've seen develop around the Tory 1922 committee last night may well become deeper fissures.

There was a beautiful moment at today's press conference which gave a glimpse of one of the biggest cracks at the top of the coalition being papered over.

It came as Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, stood up to say he fully agreed with George Osborne on deficit reduction being the number one priority.

While Vince was lovebombing the chancellor Nick Clegg, seated, allowed himself a tiny, quick smile at Danny Alexander, his chief of staff, sitting in the front row. It was if to say - look at Vince, he's doing what we told him to do.

Osborne just sat their with his hang tough face on, listening to the man who had the audacity to try and stop him being chancellor in the first place. Clegg could learn from Osrborne about keeping the iron mask on at press conferences from now on.

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