‘How can we strengthen Nick?’ According to insiders, this is the big question that David Cameron and his Downing Street lieutenants have recently been chewing over in the crucial 8.30am meeting.
As yet, the answer is unclear. Conventional wisdom has it that the Lib Dems will be given reform of the House of Lords in order to make up for their lost council seats and the defeat of AV.
Yet many Tory MPs are deeply opposed to Nick Clegg’s dream of replacing the Lords with a largely-elected chamber. It may be in the coalition agreement, but so what? Dave’s inner circle know exactly what they have signed up to. Earlier this week, George Osborne pointed out the said document pledges merely to ‘bring forward’ proposals, not enact them.
Neither are Team Cameron minded to let Clegg be seen as the saviour of the NHS. When the PM met the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs this week, he reportedly stressed that the NHS reform pause was his idea not Nick Clegg’s – ‘and that he won’t let the Lib Dems take credit for the coming changes’.
One thing that Clegg could be allowed to put his stamp on is the forthcoming statutory register of lobbyists.
Lucky him! The register was added to the coalition agreement last year as a sop to the Lib Dems. The Cabinet Office is expected to issue a consultation on the register in the next few weeks.
How robust will the register be? Most lobbyists are desperately hoping it will contain little more than names of lobbyists and who they work for. Most Tory MPs seen no reason for it to go any further.
But the Lib Dems may not be so easily pleased.
In their 2010 manifesto, the Lib Dems also pledged to ‘curb the improper influence of lobbyists by… requiring companies to declare how much they spend on lobbying in their annual reports’.
If they were to push for similar financial details to feature in the lobbying register, would the PM really stand in the way of that too?
Clegg could have a good old fight with lobbyists and business chiefs. But it seems unlikely that the Cameron – having previously made a such big deal of cracking down on ‘secret corporate lobbying‘ – would want to be seen as the defender of lobbyists. Especially if another lobbying scandal occurs.
As one Westminster source put it earlier this week: ‘The Lib Dems will now get a greater say on the lobbying register.
‘If lobbyists are not careful, they could end up as collateral damage.’