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"David Cameron's good fortune was not to have won the election"

I hesitate to challenge the wisdom of the man described by Paul Goodman as the "Greatest Living Englishman" but I thoroughly disagree with Charles Moore's recent argument that "David Cameron's good fortune was not to have won the election". In an article for tomorrow's Times (already online for those willing to register) I've argued against Charles' piece (without mentioning it). I have three main worries about the fact we've ended up in Coalition government;

We've traded short-term ease for mid-term danger: In the short-term it's simpler to have the Coalition's majority of 70 than a wafer thin Tory majority (let alone no majority). Cameron can ignore the awkward squad on his backbenches. In the medium-term, however, there is a danger that the Liberal Democrats can pull the plug on the Coalition and at a time of maximum vulnerability for the Conservatives. If Clegg pulls the plug after Britain has voted for Alternative Vote there is a real danger of a heavy Tory defeat. AV tends to exaggerate voting trends. If AV had been operational in 1997 the Tories would probably have lost 230 MPs, rather than 160.

The Liberal Democrats will drag the Coalition to the Left: Although it's very early days, the polls already suggest that the Liberal Democrats are suffering from their alliance with the Conservatives. Large numbers of LibDem voters lean Left and they don't like the fact that their party is supporting the VAT-increasing, welfare-reforming, immigration-capping Tories. I predict the LibDems will do badly in next year's Scottish and Welsh elections and in subsequent elections in northern cities. The Liberal Democrats' big beasts - Kennedy, Campbell and Ashdown - will then start to flex their left-of-centre muscles. The argument will be that the Coalition has to move Left or they should leave it. Cameron will have to swallow concessions to the Left as the price of keeping his government together.

The Conservatives won't get credit for their progressive policies: If the Coalition survives until the end of the Parliament, credit for the progressive dimensions of the Government’s record – including welfare reform and investment in overseas aid – will be claimed by Clegg. By not ruling on his own David Cameron lost an opportunity to prove that the compassionate conservatism that has been blossoming within the party for many years is real.

Is there anything to be done? I recommend two things in the article:

  1. The Conservative Right organises itself so that it provides a counterweight to the pressures that will come from Cameron's Left. I've already suggested some ways in which the Parliamentary Conservative Party can help the Tory leader.
  2. Conservative HQ and Downing Street stop ignoring the fact they lost the election and learn the necessary lessons. The fact that every principal adviser to David Cameron has been given a job in government - unlike the 37 frontbenchers in opposition who have lost out - is a worrying sign of complacency. We cannot go into the next election with the same political machine and tactical obsessions.

Tim Montgomerie


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