The Mid-Term Review: 3 further points

by Stephen Tall on January 8, 2013

I posted last night my initial reactions to the Coalition’s Mid-Term Review: It’s hit and miss. But the biggest miss are the wasted opportunities. Three further quick points:

1) The Coalition’s survived: that’s significant

One omission in my review, and it’s a biggie: I should have noted the significance of the Coalition having stuck as a governing entity. The fact that Nick Clegg and David Cameron are making two-party government work at all is an achievement, one noted last week even by Matthew d’Ancona not a natural friend of the Lib Dems or pluralism:

For two decades we embraced the quasi-presidential style of Thatcher and Blair: a style still deployed successfully by Boris Johnson. But, for now at least, we have settled upon something different — government by two rather than one — an option to which we now know we can safely return. For what this Mid-Term Review truly reflects is something new, unexpected and of deep constitutional significance: nothing less than the viability of duumvirate.

2) Some things old, some things new

On a more negative note, the Mid-Tem Review promises:

Today, at the half-way point in this Parliament, we are taking stock of the progress we have made in implementing the Coalition Agreement that we signed in May 2010.

But it does no such thing. There’s no way of checking which pledges from the May 2010 Our programme for government have been met; and no way of checking which of the pledges contained in January 2013′s Together in the national interest are actually new (as opposed to carried-forward). The only reference point I have is the Guardian’s pledge-tracker — and that hasn’t been updated in over 18 months (whether because it showed too much progress for the Guardian’s tastes, or was just too hard to work out, I’m not sure).

3) Justice: giving with one hand, taking away with the other

The mis-match between the new Freedom Bill and the pursuit of secret courts is a mystery. We will, apparently, hear more in the next few weeks about a second Freedom Bill, the joint Clegg-Cameron foreword tells us:

as we take these steps to reshape the British state for the 21st century, we will take further steps to limit its scope and extend our freedoms.

Yet as Jo Shaw points out here the Mid_term Review also commits the Coalition, equally enigmatically, to instituting secret courts:

We will legislate to ensure that the security services are properly monitored through increased Parliamentary oversight and that proper balance is struck in trials involving highly sensitive matters of national security.

The ‘proper balance’ referenced there is to an unequal form of justice that no liberal government could ever sign up to; yet this one has, with all the risks that poses for the Lib Dem leadership.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.