UK coalition government – all tension and rumble

When the coalition government was formed in the UK, the public and the media were sweet-talked into thinking it was a match made in heaven. But after a string of painful reforms and budget cuts, the coalition seems to be splitting apart.

­Recent polls suggest more than half the population is disappointed in the government and very few people still believe it will last its full term.

What a difference a year makes. Last year it was spring, smiles and a rosy reception as Britain emerged from a power vacuum with an arranged political marriage. But the honeymoon is over and parliamentary insiders reveal you can cut the atmosphere with a knife in the corridors of power.

Last year the unhappy couple agreed on health reform. But doctors and nurses believe it is too bitter a pill to swallow:

“I can tell you as a frontline nurse – what Cameron’s doing is going to lead to people dying,” said a London nurse. And an alarming number of people are thinking along the same lines.

The embattled leader of the junior coalition party, Nick Clegg, says he is prepared to overrule and undermine the bill.

“There’s a lot of tension between Cameron and Clegg, because Clegg feels he was hung out to dry, exposed by Tory attacks on him during the debate over electoral reform, so there is a lot of tension. They used to be like twins, whereas now it’s quite unhappy,” maintained Diane Abbott, shadow minister for public health.

Leading Liberal Democrats insist it is business is usual. And although clear cracks are showing, they are adamant they will keep the coalition soldiering on for another four years.

Clegg is understandably wary: the British care passionately about their health service, and politicians meddle at their peril. Cash needs to be cut, but Clegg knows first-hand the feeling of the knives being out for you, like when students marched en masse, blaming him personally for increasing college fees when he had promised not to.

The speed of slashing spending pitted the government against the people. And when the Liberal Democrats buckled into faster cuts, it brought the coalition to breaking point.

“I think that the coalition is on a tightrope. When the LibDems start to feel that their Westminster leadership will lead them over a cliff, then party will actually be annihilated. And that will provide pressure on the coalition,” said Abbott.

The recent referendum and local elections have put the Liberal Democrats on the back foot.  Their response to that has been to come out fighting. The health service reforms are now undergoing what is being called a “listening exercise”, and then they will be put back in the ring.

But with Cameron and Clegg barely on speaking terms at times, governing looks difficult, and keeping it going for another four years looks even harder.