It is not easy running a successful coalition, particularly when the two parties in it disagree fundamentally about big issues like the role of the state, the EU, and the constitution.
Success comes from concentrating on a few crucial things that need doing where there is agreement. Strains occur when the Coalition government tries to stretch the agreement, to institutue radical reforms that do not have the whole hearted support of both parties or do not resonate with a large majority of the public. This Coalition has been very ambitious in what it wishes to change, with a result that there are strains in the alliance.
The Lib Dems got a great deal in the original negotiation. They decided to press on with large scale constitutional change. Their passion for a different voting system led to the voters rejecting the plan, when Conservative MPs allowed them to test opinion in a referendum. Very few Conservatives ever wanted a change to the voting system.
The Lib Dems tried to reform the House of Lords, against considerable opposition in the Lords and in the Conservative Parliamentary party. They abandoned it when they finally realised that it was not going to get through both Houses.
The Lib Dems decided perversely to impose high tuition fees on students, a reversal of their stance in the General Election. It turned out to be very unpopular policy, and does not even help the public accounts in the short term, given the state finance behind the loan scheme. Conservatives went along with Dr Cable’s scheme.
The Lib Dems succeeded in imposing a Mansion Tax Stamp Duty of 7% on dear properties, which has damaged the property market in central London and led to a halving of activity levels. They talked the Chancellor into a rise in Capital Gains Tax, which is now depressing CGT receipts.
The Conservatives insisted on seeking to control immigration, but are finding they can do nothing about EU immigration, where the Lib Dems do not wish to see a renegotiation or fundamental change in our relationship owing to Lib Dem views.
The Conservatives did veto the Fiscal treaty for the UK, and have demanded a better budget deal from the EU, but are not able to pursue the instincts of the party for a major change in our relationship as the Euro superstate emerges as quickly and as fully as Conservatives want.
The Conservatives did not succeed in curbing welfare spending as they wished thanks to differences with the Lib Dems.
The two parties did agree on an Income Tax cut through raising thresholds, which was popular. They did agreee to seek to cut the budget deficit, with majority support from the country. They did agreee the end of ID cards and a few other civil liberty measures at the beginning, but are becoming more authoritarian in office.
The disagreement over the response to Leveson shows how difficult it now is to do things together. As the leaders plan more than two more years of this, it would be a good idea to sit down and think about how they could use the time usefully. There are areas where they should agree. Why not more civil lilberty measures? Why not less nanny state? Why not more genuine devolution of power to Councils, companies, families and individuals? Why not do the job of cutting spending plans and deficit as originally stated but not yet fully executed?