Ever since the formation of the Coalition between David Cameron’s Conservatives and Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats in the aftermath of the May 2010 general election, British politics has by and large been dominated by two interrelated questions.
The first was whether, in spite of the obvious chemistry between the two leaders, an alliance between two parties with such vastly differing worldviews could actually come close to achieving its stated aim of governing for a full five-year Parliament.
The second was whether the tough economic measures it adopted would succeed in tackling the deficit, as the Tories had argued during the election campaign, or merely succeed in choking-off an incipient recovery, as Labour had warned.
Eighteen months on, those questions remain unresolved, but as the political year 2011 draws to a close, we are at least a little closer to knowing the answers.
On the first point, I wrote at the start of the year that if the Coalition managed to get through 2011, it would in all likelihood survive until its target date of 2015.
In making that prediction – which I may well be forced to revise over the coming 12 months - I was looking to May’s referendum on reform of the voting system as the likeliest breaking point between the two partners.
As it turned out, the Lib Dems’ crushing defeat in the referendum did not prove the Coalition breaker some of us thought it might, despite Mr Cameron having apparently given his party the green light to launch some bitter personal attacks on Mr Clegg.
And late in the year another issue emerged which on the face of it now seems much more likely to prevent the Coalition going the course: Europe.
Mr Cameron’s self-imposed isolation at this month’s European Summit capped what on the face of it was not a great year for the Prime Minister.
He found himself forced into a series of policy U-turns – over privatising forests, reducing prison sentences for defendants who plead guilty, and most notably over the ill-judged attempt to impose competition on the National Health Service.
Meanwhile the phone-hacking affair at the News of the World threw the spotlight on Mr Cameron’s close personal links with the Murdoch empire, while the travails of his defence secretary Liam Fox forced him into his first reshuffle.
And with the economy flatlining and unemployment on the rise, Chancellor George Osborne was forced to revise growth forecasts downwards and borrowing forecasts upwards as he conceded that the deficit would not, after all, be paid off in the current Parliament.
The fact that, in spite of all this, Mr Cameron ended the year ahead in the opinion polls probably says less about him that it does about the plight of the Labour opposition.
Party leader Ed Miliband’s one big success – and it was a not inconsiderable one – was to lead the attack on Murdoch and in so doing prevent him taking control of BSkyB - the first time the political establishment had stood up to the ageing media mogul in three decades.
He also made by far the most substantial of the three party leaders’ speeches in what was otherwise a distinctly unmemorable conference season, setting his face against the “fast buck culture” of the Thatcher-Blair years.
But the largely negative public reaction to the speech showed the extent of his task in winning over an electorate that still seems resolutely underwhelmed by him, and as Parliament broke up for Christmas, the muttering about his leadership in the Labour ranks was growing.
Mr Miliband’s failure to make the political weather was all the more baffling given the grim economic news, which increasingly appeared to bear out Labour’s warnings against cutting “too far, too fast.”
Inevitably the impact of the cuts was most keenly felt in the North-East, where more than 30,000 public sector jobs disappeared at a time when they were apparently still being created in other more prosperous regions.
But Labour remained hampered both by its failure to articulate a clear position on the deficit and by its perceived complicity in having created the problem in the first place.
And unless and until the public changes its collective mind about who is really to blame for the country’s economic plight, Mr Cameron’s continued political ascendancy seems assured.