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Public blame the Conservatives for breaking Coalition Agreement

By Tim Montgomerie
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For Bruce Anderson in today's Telegraph there is no doubt that Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats are at fault for this week's very public tensions inside the Coalition:

"There was no linkage between House of Lords reform and the Commons boundary changes. The price of boundary changes was a referendum on the Alternative Vote. David Cameron paid that price. He kept his word. Nick Clegg is breaking his: pretty despicable behaviour."

That is not how the public sees it, however, according to a new poll from YouGov [PDF].

Only 30% of the public think that the Tories "have mostly kept to their side of the [Coalition Agreement]" but 45% think that the Lib Dems have mostly kept their side of the deal. 51% agree that Conservatives "have mostly not kept to their side of the deal" while only 32% think that of the Liberal Democrats. Stephen Tall at LibDemVoice has, unsurprisingly, welcomed these findings.

There are probably a number of reasons why the Tories are getting the blame for Coalition tensions. One reason is that, for many, we are still the party of ruthless self-interest. For others it's simply that we're the big party and the big party can bully the lil' ol' Lib Dems. But there's also the fact that Nick Clegg has been very vocal in attacking the Conservatives for a breach of contract. Senior Tories haven't hit back by making the point that Bruce Anderson makes; the deal was an AV referendum for boundary reform, not boundary reform for an elected Lords. Cameron and his operation are cautious because they know that there can't be any winner from public spats between the Coalition partners. Clegg's public posturing is being allowed because Cameron needs him to survive. Clegg is probably the only Lib Dem leader who would choose to be in alliance with the Conservatives rather than Labour. Without poking the Tories in the eye in a very public way Nick Clegg's leadership would be in even more trouble than it is. The Cable bandwagon would have gathered further speed.

Nonetheless Martin Kettle is largely right in today's Guardian. Recent events are pushing the Lib Dems closer to their natural allies, Labour, reinforcing what Paul Goodman has already identified. We have to win outright next time or we're likely to be out of power.


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