Politics.co.uk Blog

Monday, 17 May 2010

The calm between the storms

This is going to be a strange, strange week.

Apart from anything else we're not expecting a change of government in the next five days.

Yes, there are a few more details to be ironed out as the final details of the coalition agreement are published. But this is the week which comes after last week's dramatic and historic deal - and before the dramatic and historic Budget which will see the new government commit itself to drastic public spending cuts in a bid to placate the markets.

Nowhere was this hiatus period more apparent than in the first lobby briefing of the new government.

The new prime minister's spokesman (PMS) deserves pity: this is a tough job at the best of times. But in a week when the government has barely managed to come up with its full range of policies he doesn't have much to go on.

For now, the PMS has very little to work with. Usually after a general election the winning party's manifesto would be the main point of reference. But on a day when the chancellor's first major announcement was the launch of a body backed by another party, normal rules don't apply.

Instead he was forced to retreat to the six-page coalition agreement as the only real concrete statement of government policy. It was reported today, for example, that the Lib Dem-Tory coalition intends to create over 100 new peers to smooth the flow of its legislation.

The PMS frowned when asked about this, before reading out the relevant section from the initial coalition document. Proposals are being brought forward "for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber on the basis of proportional representation". In the interim, crucially, "Lords appointments will be made with the objective of creating a second chamber reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the general election". The PMS made his position clear: "It's quite a leap to go from that to 100 more peers." Is it, though?

Until the full coalition document arrives we can expect much more of this. The 24-hour news agenda has its own demands, but we're all being forced to wait as the coalition works out its stance on a whole range of issues. The final document, by the way, can be expected "quite soon" - probably within the next couple of weeks. The ultimate deadline is the Queen's Speech, which takes place on May 25th.

Until then the government has very little to say on the many, many issues of national importance which must be addressed. "This is quite an unusual week," the PMS said dolefully. How right he is.

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