That question crops up again, when should the Tories split from the Lib Dems?
By Peter Hoskin
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There are two particular reasons, at the moment, to discuss whether and when David Cameron should break the bonds of coalition. First, there’s the spirit of self-confidence that has descended on the Tories with the hot weather. Second, there’s the fact that so many simmering divisions between Conservatives and Lib Dems – benefits, Europe, Trident – have recently boiled over into the newspapers.
And so, two columnists have set their pens to the matter today. The first is Simon Heffer, who, in the Daily Mail, usefully outlines the two broad strands of Tory thought, whilst placing himself with the first:
“One influential group wants him to break the Coalition and separate from the Lib Dems after May’s European elections, so as to govern as a minority administration for the last eight or nine months before the next general election.
This would allow the Tories to demonstrate to voters the more radical policies that would be pursued by a Conservative Party governing on its own.
However, another group of advisers wants Mr Cameron to remain yoked to Nick Clegg & Co until May 2015. This is not out of any sense of loyalty to the Lib Dems, but because they fear the Tories might need them to form a second Coalition if there is another election that results in no one party winning an outright majority.”
The other is Matthew Parris in the Times (£). He belongs more to Heffer’s second group, although not just for the sake of another Coalition. He’s also concerned that an anti-Coalition stance could both alienate “middle-of-the-roaders who may vote Conservative, but sometimes waver,” and place power in the hands of what he calls “the awkward squad on the right”. Or at least that’s my précis – it’s worth reading his column for the full argument.
Myself, I’m one of those terrible softies who thinks the Tories should be at pains to preserve the original spirit of the Coalition (see here and here, for instance) – but even I, increasingly, believe there’s a political case for a decoupling before the next election, so long as it is carefully agreed and organised by both sides. It’s not as though the Rose Garden is currently in full blossom. The frustrations of mutual government will likely just grow worse as the election approaches.
But I do have a practical concern: ditching the Lib Dems would require a wholesale reshuffle, with plenty of MPs who haven’t necessarily had much experience of Government drafted into ministerial positions at the sharp end of a Parliament. What this would mean for the Tories’ policy agenda is uncertain. Would it rejuvenate it? Would it upset it? But it’s a risky game to play with an election approaching.