LONDON — British Prime Minister David Cameron, setting new priorities for his coalition with the Liberal Democrats, put child care, the elderly, and transport investment at the core of his agenda in the run-up to elections in 2015.
Cameron, who leads the Conservative Party, held a joint news conference in London Monday with Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg to highlight their shared agenda as they publish a “Mid-Term Review” summing up coalition achievements since 2010 and announcing new policies.
“We will support working families with their child-care costs,” Cameron and Clegg wrote in the joint foreword to the document, released in advance by the premier’s office.
“We will build more houses and make the dream of home ownership a reality for more people. We will set out plans for long-term investment in Britain’s transport infrastructure," they said. "We will set out two big reforms to provide dignity in old age: an improved state pension that rewards saving; and more help with the costs of long-term care.”
Cameron indicated in a Sunday Telegraph newspaper interview he’d like to stay in office another seven years, even as opinion polls suggest the Conservatives may lose power in 2015. As that election approaches, he and Clegg will increasingly campaign for their separate parties, rather than pushing joint policies.
Relations between the parties hit a low in July after a rebellion by Tory lawmakers over an overhaul of the upper House of Lords sparked retaliation by the Liberal Democrats, derailing changes to electoral boundaries that would have benefited the Conservatives.
An overhaul of the welfare system and Britain’s relationship with the European Union (EU) have also divided the coalition. The publication of Monday’s document was delayed for six months as the parties sought common ground.
“We’re certainly going to be fighting the next general election on our separate manifestos, just as all coalition parties always do,” David Laws, a Liberal Democrat minister who was part of the original coalition negotiations, told BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program. “We’ll be presenting our own vision to the public of where we want to see the country go in the future.”
Laws said the government had made “massive progress” in cutting a budget deficit that stood at almost 160 billion pounds ($257 billion) when it took office.
An opinion poll in the Mail on Sunday newspaper showed the opposition Labor Party with 38 percent support, the Conservatives with 29 percent, and the Liberal Democrats with 11 percent.
The Survation polling company, which questioned 1,002 people on Jan. 3 and Jan. 4, said 16 percent of respondents expressed support for the U.K. Independence Party, which seeks to pull Britain out of the EU. Such a result in 2015 would hand Labor a majority in the House of Commons.
Cameron is under pressure from Tory lawmakers angry their views are being subordinated to policies favored by Clegg’s party for the sake of keeping the coalition together.
And remaining in power is not a foregone conclusion for Cameron, even if he does win the election outright in 2015.
Labor Prime Minister Tony Blair vowed to serve a full third term in office before pressure from his own lawmakers saw him quit in 2007 in favor of Gordon Brown, three years before an election had to be called.
Sunday, Cameron predicted a difficult year for the economy that will require maintaining the current mix of low interest rates and deficit reduction.
Convincing investors that they should keep buying British bonds is ultimately more important than whether ratings companies downgrade gilts, he said. Standard & Poor’s lowered its outlook on Britain’s top credit rating last month to negative, citing weak growth and a worsening debt profile.
“We are dealing with the deficit, rebuilding the economy, reforming welfare and education and supporting hard-working families through tough times,” Cameron and Clegg wrote in the document published Monday. “On all of these key aims, our parties, after 32 months of coalition, remain steadfast and united.”
“Of course there have been some issues on which we have not seen eye to eye, and no doubt there will be more,” they wrote. “But on the things that matter most — the big structural reforms needed to secure our country’s long-term future — our resolve and sense of shared purpose have, if anything, grown over time.”
The coalition was formed in May 2010, with the two men giving a news conference in the rose garden at Cameron’s London office in Downing Street.
Comparing them back then to “giggly newlyweds,” Labor Vice-Chairman Michael Dugher wrote on the Politics Home website Sunday that “the happy couple will this week reaffirm their vows. But no amount of relaunching can obscure the reality of the impact of their time in office.”
“They said they’d fix the economy,” Dugher said in an email. “But living standards are still falling for the hard-working majority whilst a handful of millionaires get huge tax cuts. They said they’d fix welfare, but the welfare bill has gone up not down.”
The premier will also deliver a speech this month on his vision for Britain’s role in Europe, under pressure from Tory lawmakers who want to quit the EU. He told BBC television’s “Andrew Marr Show” that advisers are studying areas in which Britain may seek to revise agreements with fellow European governments, while declining to provide details.
“We want to be members of the European Union, particularly the single market, but there are changes we’d like to make,” he said. Clegg has made it clear he disagrees with Cameron’s plans to opt out of 130 EU law-and-order directives and then to opt back in to some.
Clegg will begin a weekly half-hour phone-in radio show in an effort to reconnect with voters as his opinion-poll ratings slump. He will broadcast every Thursday, starting Jan. 10 at 9 a.m., as part of the Nick Ferrari program on London’s LBC station.
No other member of the government has a regular broadcasting slot, partly because of laws requiring political balance from radio and television stations.
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