Clarke is an example to other Tories

The U-turn on secret courts shows that the Justice Secretary understands coalition government.

One is the Septuagenarian, jazz-loving secretary of state for Chillaxation. The other is the Home Secretary, whom people used to call a safe pair of hands (they’ve stopped that now). Who is the more effective minister?

Easy. It’s Ken Clarke. Because he gets coalition government.

Contrast the progress on the two parts of the Queen's Speech that had "Tory policy" written all over them – the snoopers' charter and the plan for so-called "secret courts".

Now the former has a mountain of civil liberties issues attached – but was handled by everyone’s favourite liberal Tory, Clarke. While many on the Tory right like to portray him as a bumbling, out-of-touch loose cannon (can’t think why), isn’t it interesting how he’s engaged with the issues, heard the arguments, listened to the reservations raised by Nick Clegg in his letter to other members of the cabinet. And now he’s produced proposals that meet the concerns expressed, including notably that judges (not ministers) will decide when the new powers can be used and that they will not apply to inquests.

It’s not perfect – even Clarke himself says so. But it’s a hell of a lot better than it was. And the perfect example of how Lib Dems in government can make bad policy better.

Contrast that to the snooping bill. Looked after by Theresa May, there appears to be no such accommodation made. Instead we’ve had the usual cry of "you just don’t understand’. And as a result, the bill is in abeyance, moved from full to draft status in the Queen's Speech. To my knowledge, those draft proposals still have not been circulated to members of the Home Affairs Select Committee for review (I’m told this document that circulated after the Queen's Speech is nothing like the draft). Lib Dems, led by the redoubtable Julian Huppert, are up for a fight and there’s a steadfast determination to ensure nothing passes that increases the powers of RIPA.

The snoopers' charter is going to suffer the death by a thousand amendments.  And May is going to run very fast to go backwards.

Its funny. The Tory right are still convinced that they won the last election, that they should be free to invoke all the legislation they want. They’re wrong. If they want to make progress, they need to work with us, not fight us, and expect their legislation to be made more liberal, not less. I don’t expect the Lib Dems to get much credit for it from New Statesman readers. But I promise you – without us acting as a Tory brake, things would be a hell of a lot worse.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference.

Justice Secretary Ken Clarke. Photograph: Getty Images.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

Getty Images.
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Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.