Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Will Nick Clegg now get a proper Office of the Deputy Prime Minister?

Writing on the Spectator Coffee House blog, Daniel Korski looks at the tensions between the Coalition partners and its future after the AV referendum.

He plays down reports that Liberal Democrat ministers are being excluded from important decisions:
Having seen it up close, I know how much effort both Tory and Lib Dem ministers actually put in to keep each other informed of their work and policies. Tory-led Departments often consult Lib Dems. And the PM and the DPM seem to have a better relationship than most of their predecessors had. They are certainly more ideologically aligned than Tony Blair was with John Prescott.
many Cabinet ministers will be weary of sharing material with their junior ministers, even if they are from the same party. Perhaps especially if they know them well. Think how Clare Short undermined Chris Mullen at DfiD, as described in the latter's excellent lament A View from the Foothills. Civil servants also love working for Secretaries of State, and often indirectly help to undermine Junior Ministers.
As to Nick Clegg's future:
When the Lib Dem leader decided not to head a department, as many expected he would, he signalled his intention to be part of every government decision not tied down by a departmental remit.

But Clegg did not build up the kind of policy machinery in the DPM's office that is required not only to stay abreast of policy developments, but also to drive change in the direction he wants. A number of civil servants, a few SpAds, some junior speechwriters and access to Lib Dem SpAds strategically placed in No 10 was meant to be enough. But it hasn't been so. And while the DPM has been able to put a stamp on government policy by force of intellect, his link to the PM, good relations with the PM's outer office and strategic use of his Cabinet committee chairmanships, it will not be enough to make Lib Dems feel, post-AV, that they are getting a say.

So there are three choices. A reshuffle that puts Nick Clegg in charge of a key department where the Lib Dems have concerns, such as Health. Or a set of policy changes designed to placate the Lib Dems — though the Tories seem in no mood for this. Or, more likely, the creation of a proper DPM's office, not to rival No 10, but to act as a behind-the-scenes policy entrepreneur, driving Lib Dem preferences and ensuring Lib Dem access to decision-making.

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