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Friday, 10 August 2012

10 August 2012


I don't really want to bring down the curtain on the Olympi-bonanza before the closing ceremony's final firework has fizzled -- but we do need to remember that there's still a country to be run, even if it is half buried beneath an embarrassingly high pile of gold medals, and there's still a government that needs to run it.

And, as you may not have noticed amid all the excitement (a gold medal in women's taekwondo? Really? How did that happen? And when did horses start dancing to music?), the government is not a happy bunny. There will be trouble ahead.

David Cameron, as we discovered shortly before we went Olympi-mad, can't deliver on his promise to reform the House of Lords. This week, he gave up trying, which has greatly upset Nick Clegg, who in return says he now won't support proposals to reduce the number of MPs in the House of Commons, which would have been a great help to Mr Cameron.

Remember when we were governed by the TB/GBs? (TB=Tony Blair; GB=Gordon Brown.) Their hate-hate relationship poisoned the machinery of government and did none of us any good. Well, now it's the DC/NCs (DC=David Cameron; NC=Nick Clegg.) Maybe they don't hate each other in that fratricidal way that Blair and Brown did -- but they've certainly fallen out of love.

The lovey-dovey of the Downing Street rose garden in May 2010 is no more than a distant memory. The trust has gone, and neither of the coalition partner leaders believes any more in the ability of the other to keep his promises.

We are not yet half way through what is meant to be a five-year term for the coalition government, yet I sense increasingly that ministerial thoughts are already turning to electoral calculation. The Tories desperately want to win a majority that would allow them to govern without having to rely on those pesky Lib Dems -- and the Lib Dems desperately want to avoid annihilation.

Restive Conservative backbenchers seem to be chafing unhappily from the constraints of coalition, and when they look at what the opinion polls are telling them, they conclude that voters are no longer impressed by their protestations of coalition compromises in the national interest.

So what are they going to do about it? Do I think David Cameron is about to be overthrown by a phalanx of toga-wearing Boris Johnson centurions chanting blood-curdling threats in Latin? Of course not. Do I think the Lib Dems are going to throw Nick Clegg to the wolves, in the hope of being able to appeal to the electorate in 2015 without a Clegg albatross around their neck? Er, unlikely, but not impossible.

The point is this: even if you care not a fig for the machinations of Westminster, these guys are responsible for devising policies that may, perhaps, help the UK economy out of the doldrums. If they are at each other's throats all the time, and looking for opportunities to do each other down, it doesn't exactly bode well for the rest of us.

Perhaps you haven't noticed, but the euro crisis is still very much with us, even if most of the bankers and traders are on holiday at the moment, and the latest figures on the UK economy (zero growth predicted for 2012, the trade gap at record levels) are pretty grim.

So although much of the country seems to have thoroughly enjoyed the combination of a bit of sunshine and an unexpectedly successful Olympics, it's a pretty safe bet that it won't take long for the smiles to fade. And I'm not expecting to see many smiles on the faces of Mr Cameron or Mr Clegg.

I know the marriage metaphors have been overdone, but I can't help observing that the prime minister and his deputy do look increasingly like a couple trapped in a marriage that's no longer working. If they stay together, it's because they think they'd be worse off separately -- but that doesn't stop them dreaming of it every night.

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