Cameron presses the ‘mute’ button on coalition politics

David Cameron is seeking to downplay the significance of coalition politics ahead of this week's Queen's Speech.

But the prime minister has acknowledged the government needs to "focus on what matters" after the Conservatives suffered a drubbing in last week's local elections.

The loss of 405 councillors and control of 12 councils is a major electoral setback for the Tories, whose right-wing MPs are now calling on their leader to resist Lib Dem moves to legalise gay marriage and push through Lords reform.

Wednesday's Queen's Speech, in which the coalition will relaunch its agenda with a raft of bills boosting family life, tackling crime and helping those hit hard by the recession, is not expected to concentrate on what Canterbury Tory MP Julian Brazier has called "pretty ridiculous fringe policies".

Instead Mr Cameron will attempt to promote "a fair society in which effort is rewarded, work pays, and the state is there to help people but not shape every part of their lives".

Directly addressing the tensions between his party's right and Liberal Democrats within the coalition, he wrote in an article for the Telegraph newspaper: "Of course, some things would be more straightforward if I was running a Conservative-only administration, rather than a coalition.

"And let me be clear, that is my aim after the next election. But I don't accept that we have not made – and cannot continue to make – radical changes."

He cited the reform of public sector pensions and student finance as examples of areas which previous Conservative governments had not been able to tackle over many decades.

The prime minister sought to downplay the significance of party politics throughout the article.

He said he was "sceptical of those who claim to draw the answer to every problem from a loud ideology" and suggested that the government's popularity was about "focus, delivery and hard work" rather than "tacking right or moving left".

"There are some who try to help by pointing out that it isn't easy when your party doesn't have a majority and the country has run out of money," Mr Cameron concluded.

"Sure. But government is about action, not excuses. I know exactly who, and what, we are fighting for – and I am more determined than ever to deliver."

Yesterday chancellor George Osborne signalled that the Tory leadership was prepared to water down Liberal Democrat-backed policies like Lords reform.

"What people are saying is focus on the things which really matter like the economy, welfare, education, crime and the NHS… and not get distracted by too many other issues," he told BBC1's The Andrew Marr Show.

Demands from the Tory right remain intense, however. Backbencher Nadine Dorries called both Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne "arrogant", while Mark Pritchard warned: "If the public believe that our priorities are not their priorities, and it sticks, no amount of relaunches will suffice."

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Michael Dugher said the prime minister appeared to be showing an increasing "bunker mentality", however – repeating the language Mr Cameron used to describe Gordon Brown before the 2010 general election.

"After two years in Downing Street, with one million young people out of work and an economy in recession, he says the lesson is that he needs to put in some 'hard work'," he commented.

"Only this out-of-touch prime minister would have taken 730 days to figure that out."

Mr Dugher said that the problem was the double-dip recession rather than one of "spin", adding: "Until we see a proper plan for jobs and growth, and real help for people whose incomes are being squeezed, no one will believe that David Cameron gets it."