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No Room For More Concessions to the Liberal Democrats

Last Updated: Friday, April 15th, 2011

Regular readers will know that my ‘Law of the Coalition’ is that policy will trend leftwards or the governing partnership breaks down. It’s based on my view that Cameron needs to keep sugaring the pill of Nick Clegg’s increasingly awful electoral prospects. Although I think Cameron’s chances at the next election are fair – if the economy recovers – I’m unconvinced that the Liberal Democrats will flourish – particularly if Nick Clegg is still their leader. I can’t see Lib Dem manifesto promises being taken seriously by voters if the author of the screeching tuition fees u-turn represents the party at the next election debates.

Clegg’s immediate prospects improve if AV passes. AV will increase the Lib Dems’ chances of winning Commons seats and Clegg will become the Lib Dem leader who delivered something very dear to the party’s heart – electoral reform (even though AV is hardly PR and was once described by the Deputy PM as a “miserable little compromise”).

Clegg’s troubles worsen, however, if AV is rejected. We know that hundreds of Lib Dem councillors will lose their seats in next month’s elections. We know the party will do badly in the Scottish and Welsh contests. If AV is voted down Nick Clegg’s backbenchers will look at their party’s dire opinion polls and wonder if they’ll be re-elected under First Past The Post.

The temptation for Cameron at this point will be to find more ways of keeping Nick Clegg happy. The “pause” in NHS reforms will likely mutate into a full-blown retreat. More money will be thrown at Lib Dem projects like the Pupil Premium, poorer students’ university access funds, regional growth initiatives and the EMA. Most of all Cameron will have to pursue Lords reform. An elected Upper House is part of the Coalition Agreement. Tory peers and a large minority of Tory MPs oppose it. They particularly dislike the idea of election by proportional representation.

Cameron needs to tread carefully, therefore. A principal motivation for suggesting my Law of the Coalition was to encourage the Conservative Right to organise in order to prevent the Leftwards drift. The organisation hasn’t happened but there’s certainly now a keen awareness that the drift is, indeed, relentlessly leftwards (albeit from the good base of the Coalition Agreement).

The Right supports the deficit reduction strategy even though it’s painful but it’s important to remember that – despite what some in the trade unions might think – few Conservatives came into politics to cut, cut, cut (or should I say save, save, save?). Conservative activists get up on wet, grey Saturday mornings to deliver leaflets in the hope of getting a Tory government that, among other things, cuts taxes… jails more serious offenders… repatriates powers from Europe… expands the military… and controls immigration.  Apart from the effort to control immigration Conservatives have realised that the Lib Dems are successfully frustrating most of their other natural ambitions and that’s why Cameron spoke about immigration yesterday. He needs to rally his base vote or it won’t turn out on 7th May in sufficient numbers to defeat AV.

The mood of the Tory party has turned a lot more sour in the last two weeks. The NHS mess has been a big contributor to this but the bigger factors have been Cameron’s rubbishing of British history during his visit to Pakistan and his (inaccurate) attack on Oxford University’s admissions record. Cameron’s room to give Clegg some extra love is therefore significantly diminished. The consequences of this don’t need to be serious. Clegg has nowhere to go. If he brings the government down his party will be destroyed in an election. It may become an unhappier coalition but I still think it’s going to stay the distance.

Tim Montgomerie

 

 

HIGHTLIGHTS FROM THE WEEK ON CONSERVATIVEHOME

Clegg and Cameron backed Lansley’s plan: “The Conservative manifesto said that GPs would be given “the power to hold patients’ budgets and commission care on their behalf”.  The Coalition Agreement committed the Government to strenghtening “the power of GPs as patients’ expert guides through the health system by enabling them to commission care on their behalf”.  It will be said that neither document specifically pledged to scrap PCTs.  But this proposal was spelt out both in Lansley’s Health White Paper and in the Health Bill – which David Cameron, Nick Clegg, the Cabinet and the Government signed up to.  Downing Street sent Oliver Letwin in specifically to give the Health Secretary’s plans the once-over in advance.” More via http://j.mp/hrlCCW

 

Reasons why Conservatives struggle to trust David Cameron: “Conservative MPs would like bluer policies on crime, prisons, the EU, University access, family policy and human rights in particular.  But the core of this issue isn’t so much individual policies, the Coalition programme or even the junking of the Lisbon Referendum (which played badly even with voters ungripped by the EU issue) as the general Team Cameron pitch.  It has a finely attuned ear for liberal-leaning, centre ground voters – which was badly needed after the best part of ten years in opposition – but less of one for the battlers, the strivers, the C1s and C2s, aspiration voters, Sid’s Heirs or whatever you want to call them.” More reasons via http://j.mp/eUAmdo

Coalition/Church relations: “Cameron has pledged “a new presumption…that public services should be open to a range of providers competing to offer a better service“.  Why shouldn’t the Churches, and other faith communities, respond creatively and imaginatively?  Take hospitals, for example – one of those institutions with Christian origins that I cited earlier.  Why shouldn’t they have a Christian future as well as a past?  Why shouldn’t the Church of England bid to run one in, say, each diocese?” More via http://j.mp/gded2L

 

Philip Lee MP: Time to put a Briton into space: http://j.mp/fNLyfQ

 

IDS, Osborne and Cameron top Cabinet league table: http://j.mp/ikrJoU

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