David Cameron and Nick Clegg rounded on critics of the Coalition yesterday as they insisted it had achieved more in two years than majority Conservative or Labour governments.
Pointing to radical reform of welfare and education, as well as the reduction of Britain’s vast deficit by a quarter, the two leaders said they were ‘more committed’to coalition now than they were in May 2010.
Seeking to draw a line under the Government’s most turbulent period, following last week’s bitter row over reform of the House of Lords, the pair denied they were a ‘warring couple’.
They announced plans for a new, slimmed-down Coalition agreement in the autumn.
The Prime Minister dismissed Tory MPs who have suggested the party would be better off governing as a minority administration without the Lib Dems – insisting that with no Commons majority, it would not be able to carry legislation.
He said: ‘In a world of uncertain markets does anyone think we would be better off with a minority government that couldn’t carry its legislation, that couldn’t make rapid decisions?
‘I am even more committed to coalition government today than I was in May 2010 when Nick Clegg and I formed this Government. It has real purpose, a real mission.’
The Prime Minister added: ‘My argument is actually we have taken on challenges that often single-party governments have found impossible,’highlighting reforms to cut the cost of public sector pensions by 40 per cent despite fierce trade union opposition.
‘That’s something Labour didn’t achieve in 13 years and the Tories didn’t achieve in 17 years,’he insisted.
Controversial tuition fee reforms, Mr Cameron said, were another example of the coalition taking bolder steps in two years than the previous Tory or Labour governments.
He suggested the Coalition compared favourably with the administrations of Tony Blair, John Major and even Margaret Thatcher.
Mr Clegg, for his part, poured scorn on those who were ‘losing their nerve’almost half-way through the five-year Parliament.
The Deputy Prime Minister brushed aside last week’s turmoil over his plans to replace the House of Lords with a mainly elected second chamber – 91 Tory MPs voted with Labour to wreck Government legislation.
‘You always get a bump in the road like we did last week in the Westminster village on Lords reform,’he said.
In a reference to his first appearance with Mr Cameron, in the garden of Number Ten, Mr Clegg added: ‘It is tough to be in government in difficult times, it is not always a walk in the park or in the rose garden. None of that will stop us from continuing to govern in the national interest for the whole country.
‘We need to put short-term popularity to one side and get on with making the big long-term reforms and changes this country so desperately needs.’
Appearing together at a railway depot at Smethwick, near Birmingham, as the Cabinet met to announce a £9billion investment in the rail network, the two men announced plans for a mid-term review of the coalition to be published in the autumn.
Further announcements on infrastructure spending are due later this week, with the Treasury expected to outline plans for the state to underwrite new housing developments tomorrow.
A full-scale Coalition agreement ‘part two’which was once mooted, however, has been scaled back.
Mr Cameron said a ‘slimmed down’document would ‘look back at what we have achieved and what we have still left to do’.
Asked what the odds were of the Coalition surviving until the 2015 election, Mr Cameron said: ‘I am not a bookmaker, I am not a betting man, but I wouldn’t bet against it.’
Mr Clegg added: ‘I would bet a considerable amount of money on us staying together.’
Tory MP Stewart Jackson, who resigned as a ministerial aide over Europe, said if the Lib Dems went through with threats to kill off changes to Commons constituency boundaries unless Conservative MPs agreed to Lords reform, then Mr Cameron should pull out of the Coalition.
But former Lib Dem Cabinet minister David Laws, one of Mr Clegg’s closest allies, said: ‘It’s very, very, very unlikely that we’re going to see the two parties split before the end of their full five-year Parliament.’
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