The coalition agreement: families & children and foreign affairs

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

If you have been following this series of posts, you’ll be familiar by now with the mix of statements in the families and children section: a strong showing of Liberal Democrat policies, some amenable Conservative policies and then a couple of tricky points.

So we have policies which would happily fit in a Liberal Democrat manifesto such as maintaining “the goal of ending child poverty in the UK by 2020″, supporting “the provision of free nursery care for pre-school children”, a pledge to “encourage shared parenting from the earliest stages of pregnancy – including the promotion of a system of flexible parental leave” and a promise to “review the criminal records and vetting and barring regime and scale it back to common sense levels”.

There are also policies with a more Conservative origin but welcome to Liberal Democrats such as, “we will publish serious case reviews, with identifying materials removed” – something both Lib Dem and Conservative MPs called for in the wake of the Baby P tragedy. Likewise the promise to “reform the administrations of tax credits to reduce fraud and overpayments” reflects the traditional Conservative emphasis on fraud but also reflects the concerns raised across parties of the problems that follow when demands for repayment of overpaid credits unexpectedly hit families.

David Cameron’s attacks on some advertising aimed at children is taken up in this section too, in a way that also reflects the issues raised in the Real Women Liberal Democrat policy paper: “We will crack down on irresponsible advertising and marketing, especially to children. We will also take steps to tackle the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood”.

Similarly, there are several proposed measures to help families, most of which fit happily with Lib Dem policies, including more use of mediation when couples break up, reviewing access rights for non-resident parents and grandparents and providing stable funding for relationship support services.

Sure Start is to continue but taken “back to its original purpose of early intervention” and ”we will bring forward plans to reduce the couple penalty in the tax credit system”.

The foreign affairs section of the coalition agreement is short, has some welcome broad principles and then has a rather curious mix of specifics. The commitment to work as a constructive member of NATO, the UN and other multilateral organisations is now pretty common across most political parties, even if it wasn’t back in the 1980s. The promise that “we will never condone the use of torture” combined with the subsequent decision to launch an inquiry into allegations that the secret services have colluded in torture continues the sprinkling of ethical foreign policy touches through the document. Afghanistan gets a vague mention about “our shared resolve” to support the military there and the importance of close relations with the US is mentioned as is support for a two-state solution in the Middle East. Reform of the UN Security Council is supported, with the idea of giving permanent seats to Japan, India, Germany, Brazil and Africa.

Then we have the slightly random: establishing a new special relationship with India (worthwhile, but why single out India?) and promoting stability in the Western Balkans (what about the rest of the Balkans; would an unstable east be ok? And indeed what about other unstable areas?).

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