Budget stories are proving a welcome distraction for the coalition for what just might be their least popular package of reforms.
By Alex Stevenson Follow @alex__stevenson
It's that time of the year when the prime minister's spokesperson has it especially easy, patiently explaining to journalists that it's just not the done thing to talk about what's going to be in the Budget. Yet the news is all about what George Osborne is going to be announcing on March 21st. This week, as previously suspected, the Lib Dems appeared to accept the demise of the 50p rate in return for their much-desired mansion tax. With Ed Miliband left to continue rebuilding Labour's reputation when it comes to manufacturing, and the aviation lobby STILL pushing hard for a third runway at Heathrow, this definitely felt like Budget buildup season.
Another significant moment coming up later this month is the completion of the health and social care bill's passage through parliament. It's been a long time coming. Yet even after all this time the legislation is still as hated as ever. This week saw NHS workers gather in Westminster to rally against the measures. I freely confess to being more baffled about the reforms than ever after spending the week putting together a podcast on them. If you have any handy hints on the key question - does it represent the privatisation of the NHS or not? - please leave a comment on our podcast forum page.
A third looming event dominated the political news this week: the Lib Dems' spring conference, which takes place this weekend. Clegg, evidently facing the beginning of the end, was told he ought to stand down by ex-MP Lembit Opik. Somehow he escaped this attack on his leadership and, having somehow embraced the Lib Dem rebels for the benefit of coalition theatre, travels to Gateshead feeling pugnacious. No change there, then.
With the single enormous exception of the NHS reforms, this was actually a relatively straightforward week for the government. There are lots of controversial issues around at the moment - it's just that they're not newsworthy in the traditional 'government are the baddies' sort of way. Their gay marriage proposals have come under attack from Cardinal Keith O'Brien, for example. The biggest phone-hacking story this week was bad news for Boris Johnson's deputy Kit Malthouse who finds himself in trouble for dismissing the whole scandal.
Then there's been the tragic news of the deaths of six British soldiers in Afghanistan. This muted the week's prime minister's questions, casting a real shadow over the session. Both David Cameron and Miliband reaffirmed their commitment to the struggle against the Taliban. And while David Miliband spoke out against the current strategy, this issue remains broadly dimmed.
Next week is, we fear, likely to be more of the same. The Budget buildup will only intensify further. And then there's the health and social care bill, which will continue to dominate as its tortuous progress through parliament reaches its conclusion. But will even this final stage be marred by the publication of the NHS transition risk register? Here's a summary of what's coming up next week in Westminster. Enjoy the weekend!