Watching Westminster - Calm down and carry on

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Making changes quickly and without upset is easier said than done.

WE ARE BEGINNING to get a feel for how this government handles pressure. Plans rarely turn out the way they were meant to and David Cameron is seeing this first hand as he assesses his initial year in office.

The coalition government always knew it would have to go through a period of deep unpopularity as it tackled the deficit, but it will have been amazed by how many of the wounds it has had to endure have been self-inflicted.

Take the plans to sell off the Forestry Commission: a relatively small issue for one of the smallest departments in government, which turned into a press mauling. Tory voters demanded a rethink and, with bulging MP mailbags, the government was eventually forced into a humiliating climb down amid accusations of incompetency. As a result, the stock of certain cabinet members plummeted.

It was all meant to be so different.

Cameron in opposition stressed he would avoid the centralised system of Gordon Brown, and give his ministers the freedom to manage their departments. However, the freedom to manage also means the freedom to make mistakes and it is here this commitment was tested and found wanting.

We have seen in response a revamped Number 10 machine, a merged press operation, a reinstated policy unit, and a new director of political strategy and head of media all now exerting a much tighter grip on the government agenda.

However, Cameron still faces backbenchers deeply unhappy with the grief they are getting from constituents due to what they see as Number 10's agenda. These MPs are dealing with a Tory heartland that is angry about a whole host of issues including the High Speed 2 (HS2) route, forests, prison policy and NHS reforms.

What we should take from this is that the government will respond to pressure if it comes from the right people - but this is both an opportunity and a threat.

For instance, HS2 was the project with potential to transform the economies of the north of England and free up Heathrow capacity. Now though, we see a whole bunch of MPs and Conservative Associations start to attack the plans as they realise what it will do to their backyard vistas.

Equally, on south east airport capacity there are rumblings from the Tory backbenches about whether this is really the best policy for the country. A number of bright, talented MPs in the new intake believe that this is an area of policy that needs to be challenged, with a view to changing the stance at the next general election - if it is not possible to do so before.

Bulging mailbags, backbench mutterings and angry constituency meetings are one thing but there is nothing quite like an election day hammering to really focus the mind. We will see the true mettle of this government as we observe how they react to the May 5 election results.

Those representing the business travel community need to be aware of this, and where they can secure change by cranking up the pressure but also stiffen the spine of Number 10 when it is required.

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