The coalition agreement: equalities and Europe

Welcome to the ninth in a series of posts going through the full coalition agreement section by section. You can read the full coalition document here.

The equalities section continues a theme common throughout the coalition document: if this section was presented to Liberal Democrat conference as the party’s policy in this area, people would be generally pretty happy with it. It doesn’t include everything the party wants, but that is balanced out by it being a list of policies which the government is actually going to put into practice rather than being just a policy motion wish list. Added to that is that this is one area where a Liberal Democrat minister – Lynne Featherstone – is in charge.

Her boss in ministerial terms is the Home Secretary, Theresa May, who has a rather patchy voting record on some equalities issues. Against that, she has said since the election that she has changed her mind on gay adoption and she was one of the first senior Conservatives to speak out about the party’s need to change its record of being seen as, in her words, “the nasty party”.

Much depends on the detail here as the document talks of promoting equal pay, ending discrimination in the workplace, extending flexible working and so on. All good aims that need to be matched by meaningful action over the next few years.

In some ways the coalition could actually be a benefit here as it will help protect the party against the instinct sometimes to use legislation as a matter of first resort; instead, other more imaginative and less bureaucratic methods will usually have to be the means of first and second resort.

Turning to Europe this is an area where by instinct Liberal Democrats are generally very uneasy about the Conservative Party’s approach. There are some reassuring words – “we will ensure that the British government is a positive participant in the European Union” – along with some good commitments, notably to press for the European Parliament to have only one home and to support further enlargement of the EU.

There are also some very clear Conservative red lines – no more transfer of powers to the EU during this Parliament, a referendum guaranteed for any future treaty changes which transfer power, a consideration of the case for a UK Sovereignty Bill “to make it clear that ultimate authority remains with Parliament” and no moves to join the euro.

Finally, there is an open question over how the promise to “approach forthcoming legislation in the area of criminal justice on a case-by-case basis” will turn out. Having a far less euro-sceptic European minister than we might have had is a promising sign for this and other matters.

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