In presentational terms it is hard to fault the relaunch of the SS Coalition yesterday.
The vessel had been given a smart new coat of paint in Conservative and Liberal Democrat colours and even the Essex tractor factory workers, press-ganged into service for the day to provide a suitable human backdrop, wore blue and yellow uniforms. Before a ship heads to sea, it is wise to check the steering and do some basic navigation but yesterday's event was clearly more about presentation than policy.
In the face of left-leaning LibDems urging an adjustment to port and Tory right-wingers demanding a shift to starboard, David Cameron announced there would be no change of course on deficit reduction. However, he conceded more needed to be done to stimulate growth. Given that Britain has re-entered a double-dip recession, this is merely stating the obvious. And he re-affirmed his commitment to the Big Society on a day when a think tank report concluded that the idea was being undermined by £3.3 billion of cuts to grassroots organisations, reducing it to "an initiative for the leafy suburbs". Disconnects detected.
Once again there was talk of "strong headwinds" from the crisis in the eurozone but, as a sailor would tell them, you cannot sail into a headwind. To get upwind, it is necessary to tack. Labour leader Ed Miliband was also in Essex yesterday, advocating some tacking to get the economy moving. He would tax bankers' bonuses to create jobs for young people, cap energy and rail fare rises and reverse tax cuts for the rich.
The challenge for Mr Miliband is that, despite the Coalition's woes, Labour still lacks credibility on the economy. And if France embarks on the very sort of Plan B that he advocates for the UK and it capsizes the French economy, he has a big problem. He and Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls are best advised to cost all their proposals carefully and say how they would pay for them. As the Coalition enters its second phase, it will become steadily more difficult to pin everything that goes wrong on Gordon Brown's captaincy of the economy.
We will discover more about the Government's intended route to the next General Election in today's Queen's Speech. David Laws is right to say governments can do more than two things at once. However, the more focus there is on items like Lords Reform and gay marriage, the more the Coalition will seem out of touch with ordinary voters, so we can expect these items to be parked. Banking and regulatory reform are both important issues, with wide public support. Here the Government must resist lobbying from vested interests to water down necessary regulation.
In Basildon yesterday Mr Cameron reiterated his observations about rebalancing the economy between financial services and manufacturing, south and north, old and young. Yet two years after coming to power, poor manufacturing figures produced a second double dip, the gap between south and north looms ever wider and youth unemployment is at a 17-year high. Unless he can produce more than platitudes, soon the talk will turn to cracks in the Coalition's hull or even holes beneath the waterline. Lest we forget: it's the country's wellbeing that's at stake.
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