100 Days: The price of governing with the Liberal Democrats
By Tim Montgomerie
Throughout this week ConHome is reflecting on the Coalition's first 100 days in power. On Sunday we looked at the Coalition's popularity. Yesterday at its radicalism. Today we examine the price of failing to win a majority.
According to Saturday's Telegraph Cameron 'prefers the Coalition to a Tory majority'. It's true that Mr Cameron gives every impression of enjoying the Coalition but given the parliamentary arithmetic it is in his interests (and the country's) to put heart and soul into making it work. Yesterday I applauded the Coalition's radicalism but on the eve of the new Government's 100th day, we should not forget the price of the Conservative Party's unsuccessful election campaign.
Here are ten downsides:
- There is an advantage in Cameron having a larger Commons and Upper House majority and the freedom to ignore his backbench 'awkward squad' but this gain is heavily offset by the lack of parliamentary security that he faces. However awkward the Chopes and Davies's may be they would never bring down a Tory governmemt in mid-term. There is now a risk of this. 47% of voters don't expect the coalition to last longer than two years. I think they're wrong but there's a risk they're not.
- The going hasn't got tough yet. Will the LibDems require concessions on the spending agenda when the cuts start to bite? Will Hughes, Farron and Kennedy lead campaigns for 'special cases'/ delays in certain cuts? I reckon there's more than a fifty/fifty chance.
- The weakness of the LibDems in the opinion polls will mean the Coalition will break down if Cameron does not give more and more concessions to the Liberal Democrats. I called this Montgomerie's Law. The latest being the appointment of Alan Milburn as social mobility tsar. This is a Clegg appointment, not a Cameron one. The concession to Cable on some sort of graduate tax is another example of the Leftwards drift.
- Trident despite the best efforts of Liam Fox is likely to be downsized as part of the Liberal Democrats' need to prove they are making a difference. Ming Campbell is, ConHome understands, determined to stop a 'continuous-at-sea' replacement. Yesterday Nick Clegg played student politics with his Trident versus help-the-poor trade-off.
- Possibilities for a more competitive tax system are much less likely. The LibDem Left will fight any attempt to scrap the counter-productive 50p income tax band. There's almost no chance of delivering on our manifesto's promise on inheritance tax.
- The chances of a realistic environmental agenda are much reduced with the nuclear-sceptic, renewables-enthusiastic Chris Huhne as Energy and Climate Change Secretary. Greg Clark would have been a much more reasonable minister.
- Coalition reduces the likelihood that Tories will get any credit for the government's compassionate acts. Many voters may think the kinder elements were all due to LibDem pressure despite the best efforts of Gove, IDS and Andrew Mitchell. Simon Hughes will be determined to suggest that it's all his party's impact.
- Some good things will never get off the ground because of Coalition dynamics. Simon Hughes (yes, that man again) has already (and probably successfully) attempted to veto Cameron's aspiration to reform tenancies for council tenants.
- The LibDems have considerably strengthened the hand of the Tory Left. In the area of law and order there is now next to no chance of amending the Human Rights Act. Ken Clarke's attack on Michael Howard's prisons policy has also been made possible.
- Finally we might see the end of First Past The Post. In return for getting 80% of a Tory manifesto (Cameron's estimate), the deal with Clegg on a AV referendum might mean majority Conservative governments are much less likely in the future. Manifesto promises are certainly going to be even less potent at the next election. 'Is that a non-negotiable promise,' voters will ask, 'or something you're willing to trade in a hung parliament?'.
[And I haven't even mentioned Europe!].
> TOMORROW'S 100 DAYS FEATURE: Cameron, the natural Prime Minister