The Coalition's in good cheer – so the hangover will be terrible
00:02 GMT, 16 December 2012
Happy: One visitor to No.10 described David Cameron's mood as 'irrationally exuberant'
Almost ‘irrationally exuberant’ is how one recent visitor to No 10 describes David Cameron’s mood. As they discussed the political situation and the state of the Coalition, the Prime Minister radiated optimism. He senses he could well achieve the second Downing Street term he so wants.
Even after the fights of the past year, Cameron is still comfortable in Coalition. A Liberal Democrat observed to me recently that nobody gets Coalition more instinctively than the Prime Minister, while a Tory Cabinet Minister half-jokes, half-complains that you can’t get Cameron to rise to the bait when you criticise Clegg. Instead, he starts talking about how to work out a deal.
These deal-making skills have been fully deployed on the Government’s big, New Year project: the mid-term review.
This is, in effect, the second Coalition agreement and will set out what the Government will do between now and 2015.
For the past three months, Cameron, Clegg, George Osborne, Danny Alexander, Oliver Letwin and David Laws have been meeting to thrash out what to put in it. The next few days will be dominated by final discussions about its contents as it must be wrapped up before the Christmas break.
The aim is to show that the two parties can still do big things together. There will be new policies to address the cost of childcare, youth unemployment and social care.
They have managed to agree something that gives enough to both sides, fostering what one Tory describes as an ‘uneasy truce’ between the two camps.
But there is a threat to the peace blowing in from across the Channel. One senior No 10 source cautions: ‘Let’s make the most of this detente while it lasts.’
United front: The Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives want to show that they can still do things together
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Europe is the issue on which Cameron
and Clegg disagree fundamentally. This split will be thrust centre stage
next month when Cameron will make his much-delayed speech setting out
his view on what Britain’s place in the European Union should be.
a political and cultural pro-European, has already derided the idea
that Britain can negotiate its way to a slimmed-down form of EU
As soon as Cameron has set out his views, Clegg will be asked whether he could ever go along with them. Cameron will face demands to state that renegotiation is a red line for him. Their responses will show how difficult a second Coalition would be, and serve as a reminder that the next Election will likely mark the end of one of their political careers.
There is also a domestic threat to Coalition harmony: the Comprehensive Spending Review in March. One worry is how Lib Dem Ministers will react to further cuts in their departments.
The word in Whitehall is that the Department of Energy and Climate Change, run by Lib Dem Ed Davey, could be in for a particularly tough settlement. But some feel confident the Coalition will ‘find a way through’. A Clegg ally remarks, with weary determination: ‘This Government is taking ever-more grisly decisions about priorities.’
Cameron will head to Chequers for Christmas with the Coalition in a better state than many expected it to be. But he’ll know that the subject on which he and Clegg most disagree cannot be avoided much longer.
Members of the Cabinet received a personal minute from the Prime Minister on Thursday. The document, a copy of which has been seen by The Mail on Sunday, sets out what Ministers need to do in the wake of the Leveson Report.
First, they must, in words taken straight from the judge, ‘publish the simple fact of long-term relationships with media proprietors, newspaper editors or senior executives which might be thought to be relevant to their responsibilities’.
Advice: Members of the Cabinet received a document from the Prime Minister setting out what they need to do in the wake of the Leveson report
If this seems straightforward, the second requirement is not. In a paragraph worthy of Sir Humphrey Appleby, they are informed there now needs to be an ‘assessment of whether Ministers have had any significant additional interaction with media figures on media policy issues. This should cover… the frequency of that interaction. We would not expect Ministers to provide precise details of the number of contacts, or the contents thereof, but a statement concerning a “general estimate” of other interaction.’
This demand is causing unease. What is ‘a general estimate of other interaction’ when it is at home There’s concern that as soon as the number of calls, emails and texts are revealed, there’ll be Freedom of Information requests for the contents.
Come Dine With… the Osbornes and Nigella
It is perhaps appropriate that the Chancellor takes his culinary cues from a chef with a personal connection to 11 Downing Street.
Family affair: George Osborne cooked dinner using one of Nigella Lawson's (pictured) recipes
When he cooked supper there last week for his political advisers to mark the departure to the States of his longtime aide Poppy Mitchell-Rose, he went for a Coca-Cola-glazed ham – a Nigella Lawson recipe.
Given her father Nigel’s influence on his economic thinking, this makes Osborne a full-spectrum Lawsonite.
James Forsyth is political editor of The Spectator