By Tim Montgomerie
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The PM and Deputy PM have just launched their mid-term review at a Number 10 press conference. Here's what we learnt…
- Not married: On the face of it they are as committed to Coalition as ever. Cameron said he wasn't married to Clegg – as media organisations like to present their arrangement – but their arrangement was a "Ronseal" deal – the two parties were doing what was promised in the Coalition Agreement. Unlike in America and in some European countries Britain was seeing two parties putting aside differences and compromising for the wider good – "together in the national interest".
- Together for a full five years: They told the BBC's Nick Robinson that they were both determined that the Coalition would last for a full five years. That is what the legislation for the fixed-term parliament was all about, insisted Clegg.
- Six new priorities: The Mid-Term review contains lots of reflection on the Coalition's achievements (ConHome's Harry Phibbs listed 100 on Sunday) but the main emphasis today was on the six new themes of the second half of the parliament –
- New investment in childcare;
- A single-tier state pension for all;
- Capping costs of long-term care;
- Help for people to afford a deposit for a mortgage;
- Investment in road and rail infrastructure;
- Extension of "British freedoms".
- What about stay-at-home parents?: The Mid-Term review repeats the commitment to introduce a transferable tax allowance on the back of Tory votes and Lib Dem abstentions. This is becoming a more and more important commitment. Nearly all Coalition reforms are biased towards double earner couples and parents who go out to work. There's a danger that mums or dads who choose to stay at home to parent or care are becoming the new Cinderellas.
- Triple dip?: Asked by ITV's Tom Bradby if Britain would avoid a triple dip recession the PM said that the independent OBR was predicting growth in 2013 – as was every mainstream forecaster.
- Benefits squeeze: Clegg reaffirmed his support for the benefits squeeze. Labour, he said,
needed to explain where they'd find the £5 billion that the 1% squeeze
was saving. From schools or hospitals? The sum was equivalent to 140,000
- EU membership: Britain's most pro-Europe newspaper – the FT – asked if the PM would "guarantee" that Britain would stay members of the EU. The PM said people would have to wait for his looming Europe speech for details of his vision but he wanted Britain to remain members – because a seat at the table where the single market's rules were decided was as important as access to that market. The Deputy PM said continuing EU membership was all about "jobs, jobs, jobs" for him and he would "always" be committed to it.
- Higher education: The PM knocked down Quentin Letts' suggestion that university education was being dumbed down (by access tsar Les Ebdon) at the same time that Michael Gove was restoring rigour to the schools exam system. Mr Cameron argued that students were becoming more demanding of courses now that they are having to pay more for them via tuition fees. People often fail to value things they get for free.
- Election debates: Responding to a question from Sky's Adam Boulton Mr Cameron dodged whether he would sign up to the same format for election debates as last time. He said that he was in favour of debates and that they should continue. That leaves plenty of scope for the debates to fail in the small print of negotiations that will inevitably be necessary. The PM is quite rightly keeping his options open.
- Another Coalition?: The PM also declined to answer a question from Channel 4's Gary Gibbon on whether Mr Cameron would pursue continuing coalition if he only won a wafer thin majority at the next election. Perhaps with an image of Peter Bone and Nadine Dorries in his mind he simply insisted he was aiming for a majority.
For what it's worth here's a PDF of the mid-term review document but it contains very little detail. Over the next fortnight we'll get more detail on what will happen in the Coalition's 'second half' – particularly on those six priorities identified under heading three above.