George Eustice: Time for coalition to take stock

The past four months have been a testing period for the coalition, and the arrival of the summer recess this week is a relief for most MPs and provides the coalition with an opportunity to take stock. There are a number of conclusions we can draw from the past two years.

George Eustice: Time for coalition to take stock
George Eustice: Time for coalition to take stock

Firstly, the coalition has been at its best when tackling major challenges like sorting out the public finances. Having a coalition of two parties has helped unite the public behind tough spending decisions. The priority now must be to spur growth in the economy. Many of the younger Liberal Democrat MPs are economically liberal and have found themselves surprisingly close in outlook to their Conservative counterparts on issues such as cutting regulation and promoting enterprise. This is an agenda where the coalition could really deliver.

Secondly, constitutional reform is not something the coalition finds easy and is better left alone. The Lib Dems felt bitter when they were defeated during the AV referendum. Conservatives feel frustrated that the Lib Dems are blocking a renegotiation of our membership of the EU, and the deadlock over Lords reform has made the relationship between both parties awkward. We just need to accept that we are poles apart on constitutional issues and shouldn't try to reach agreement in such areas.

Finally, both parties need to develop a closer relationship. The difficulties over the Budget began as a communication problem. The Lib Dems were so desperate to claim credit for the good bits of the Budget that they rushed out and leaked elements in a counterproductive way. This has forced Conservative ministers to be more cautious about what they tell the Lib Dems and when. This in turn has made the Lib Dems defensive and insecure about their place in government. One of the prerequisites of a successful agenda in politics is having a tight team of people who are loyal to one another, are discreet and who can be relied upon to protect the workings of the inner team. The coalition must try to strengthen this bond of trust.

George Eustice is Conservative MP for Camborne and Redruth and a former press secretary to David Cameron.

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