The Coalition should prepare for extreme unpopularity and govern as if it only has one term
By Tim Montgomerie
Extreme unpopularity is coming the Coalition's way. I noted some of the reasons last week. In yesterday's Observer Andrew Rawnsley reported that a Liberal Democrat Cabinet minister expects his party's support to fall to just 5% as spending cuts bite. Mr Rawnsley's source predicted Tory support will slide to 25%.
In an article for this morning's Times (£), promoting his new book on the future of the Coalition, Tory MP Nick Boles alerts us to the "ominous roar of the rapids" that lie ahead. Mr Boles urges a limited electoral pact between the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties or, he fears, the chances of a split are "overwhelming". He sets out the nature of this pact:
"This autumn both David Cameron and Nick Clegg should ask their parties to approve a binding agreement to fight the 2015 general election as coalition partners... If the voters choose to keep our current system of electing MPs, as I fervently hope they will, the pact would give parliamentary candidates in constituencies in seats held by a coalition party a free run against other parties. So, in Lib Dem seats (or those seats that would have been won by the Lib Dems if the forthcoming boundary changes had been in force last May), we Conservatives would not put up a candidate and would urge our supporters to vote Liberal Democrat. In those seats that would have been won by the Tories under the new boundaries, the Lib Dems would do the same. We would also agree on which coalition party should contest the most marginal seats of the opposition parties. If the voters do decide to embrace the alternative vote, the pact would require each of the coalition partners to urge their supporters to give their second preference vote to the candidate from the other coalition party."
Such a non-aggression pact has previously been floated by Mark Field MP and in early August a ConservativeHome survey revealed that Tory members were relatively open to the possibility. Deputy LibDem leader Simon Hughes has poured cold water on the idea, however, and a survey by LibDemVoice found very little support for the idea among Nick Clegg's grassroots.
Nick Boles wants the pact before the troubles begin. I don't think that that is a realistic possibility. Only when desperate LibDem members and MPs are looking into the face of electoral annilihation will it become a realistic possibility.
In the meantime the Coalition should take the advice of Julian Glover in The Guardian. "There's a kamikaze spirit in this government's soul," he writes, continuing:
"Ministers seem strangely pacified by the prospect of their possible political doom. New Labour feared unpopularity so much it became timid. This government has written unpopularity into the script. This has freed it to do things it would never have risked in fiscal peacetime. It is why change seems reckless and fast. The coalition feels a revolutionary duty to be brave. It should be proud of that."
I'm not convinced that the Tory leadership is prepared for the scale of unpopularity that awaits it - and it may be that the unions and other opponents overplay their hand - but Mr Glover is bang on the money with his key insight. Blair crippled his first few years of government by his need to be loved. If Cameron and Clegg are prepared to be hated throughout the coming period of extreme unpopularity they can dispense the medicine that will restore Britain to health. Five treatments matter most of all. Deep spending cuts. Simplification of the tax system. Welfare reform. Dismantling the educational establishment. Transparency in government so waste and incompetence is never hidden again.
If these things are done the Coalition has a case to make at the next election but if, as I would say is more than likely, the Tories and LibDems are thrown out, they would have, at least, have delivered the change that Britain needs.