Q: What’s the best way of telling that an election is coming?
A: An increase in the number of blog-posts that report on any policy announcement by sneeringly pointing out that an election is coming.
So here’s another one of those blog-posts. The policy announcement, in this case, was yesterday’s big £15 billion windfall for roads. It’s not that this money is unnecessary: our road infrastructure has dilapidated to the point that it’s now 28th in the world rankings, only two places ahead of Namibia’s, and I’ve had to write posts about it before. It’s where this money is being spent. According to the Telegraph’s analysis, two-thirds of that £15 billion is going towards Coalition constituencies. There must be an election coming.
But aside from the usual scrap for seats, yesterday’s announcement rang with the sounds of another battle: the battle for ownership. Various ministers have tried to stamp their names into the tarmac. George Osborne got to trail it weeks ago, and has since appeared in hi-vis at congested routes across the country. Yet Danny Alexander’s name appeared above the Chancellor’s in the official press release. Patrick McLoughlin’s appeared above both. And Nick Clegg made sure to spread himself right across the airwaves yesterday, with a little help from our prehistoric heritage.
You might say that this is the nature of Coalition; that policy belongs to both parties. But yesterday seemed to be something less noble than that. The Lib Dems were claiming that they’re the ones who have been pushing for extra infrastructure spending all along. Whereas the Tories were pointing out that they’re in charge at the Treasury and at Transport, so it’s their policy really. Both sides want the credit for themselves.
This battle for ownership will be seen in other areas. Thomas Cawston yesterday spelt out how Clegg has been trying to leave his mark on the extra NHS spending. And what about the increased personal allowance? Will this be the policy that the Lib Dems included in their manifesto and then brought into Coalition? Or will it be the policy proposed by the Tory Lord Saatchi in a 2001 pamphlet for the CPS and then enacted by a Tory Chancellor? Plenty of Conservatives have already emphasised the latter, including modernisers such as Damian Green.
But at least this isn’t outright disagreement, as we see over Europe or the environment or security policy. The reason that the Tories and Lib Dems are fighting over roads and health spending and the personal allowance is because they both approve of the policies that have been enacted. In a strange way, it’s all a testament to the ties that bind this Coalition together.