By Peter Hoskin
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A cursory glance at today’s papers, and you might feel rather
cynical about the Coalition’s prospects. There’s news of yet more tension between
the Conservatives and the Lib Dems: Nick Clegg has told
Theresa May that he will block her proposed web-monitoring plans. And,
alongside that, the Times’s Rachel Sylvester writes
(£) that the two parties have arrived at a new, bleaker stage in their
relationship. “Things have settled down into a “state of resigned compliance,”
is how she puts it.
But there is another story which suggests there’s life in
this union yet. Newsnight’s Allegra Stratton is reporting that David
Cameron and Nick Clegg are preparing to announce, in January, new policies to reduce
the cost of childcare. There are, as she says, questions remaining about the details,
but so far it sounds like a mix of Conservative priorities (making some
childcare tax deductible) and Liberal Democrat ones too (tighter qualifications
for child minders).
Childcare was one of the items I included on my list of five
suggestions for renewed Tory-Lib Dem cooperation, back in September. As I
said back then, it is an area of shared priority for Liz Truss and Nick Clegg,
even if they disagree on some of the policy specifics. That those differences
appear to have been smoothed out is testament to the surprisingly Coalitious
nature of the Department for Education, where Ms Truss is a minister. There
were concerns that the Department could collapse under the combined political
weight of Michael Gove and David Laws — but, so far at least, it appears to be churning
out policies with happy frequency.
The question now is whether this sense of cooperation will
last. As the election approaches, both halves of the Coalition will want to point
to such childcare policies as proof that they are acting to ease the squeeze on
low-to-middle-class incomes. And they will both want to pitch themselves to
female voters, too. There could well be a struggle to claim ownership.