Clegg and Cameron offer coalition reassurance

By Alex Stevenson

David Cameron and Nick Clegg seized on their united decentralising agenda in a bid to sell the coalition government, after Peter Mandelson’s memoirs reminded Britain of the horsetrading which preceded their deal.

Two uncomfortable months in power for the junior party have seen the first cracks within the coalition develop quickly, but the Conservative and Liberal Democrat leaders used a joint article in the Telegraph newspaper to restate the case for their tie-up.

“Whatever the differences that exist between us and our parties, we both passionately believe in giving people more power over their lives,” the pair wrote.

“It has become increasingly clear to us that we can be a strong, reforming government if we build outwards from the instincts we share.”

Lord Mandelson’s memoirs revealed Gordon Brown was told by Mr Clegg he could not remain in power if the Lib Dems decided to enter into a coalition with Labour, effectively ending the former prime minister’s political career.

Eventually Mr Clegg decided to back the Tories rather than Labour, a decision which led to the Lib Dems supporting George Osborne’s emergency Budget which raised VAT to 20% and laid plans for departmental budget cuts worth 25%.

“With the largest peacetime deficit in our history, the inevitable short-termism of an unstable minority government wouldn’t have been good enough,” Mr Clegg and Mr Cameron argued.

“So we put aside our differences to work together in the national interest, and have set to work tackling Britain’s debt.”

The pair are committed to holding a referendum on the alternative vote system in May 2011, in a shift which would make hung parliaments more likely.

Mr Cameron has voiced his intention to campaign against any change from the current system, but today’s joint article appeared to reinforce the suggestion that coalition government could become the norm rather than the exception.

“We hope and expect that people will look back at the days when central government held all the power and think it arcane and bizarre,” he and Mr Clegg added.

“If we continue on the path laid by these plans, if we are bold enough to let go of the controls of government and if we can truly empower people and communities, this country has a great future to look forward to.”