Coalition governments and hung parliaments are set to become a feature of British political life because the two-party system is "going out of fashion", the veteran minister Kenneth Clarke forecast last night.
Although he told the Independent fringe meeting, in association with RSA, that he regretted the demise of the Conservative and Labour dominance of Westminster, he insisted that the Tory-Liberal Democrat Cabinet was working effectively and amicably.
He said: "I like the two-party system – our two big parties are coalitions and in any other country in Western Europe they wouldn't be one party. But the public have reacted to events with excessive cynicism and dislike of the two parties. It's difficult either of them being confident of securing an overall majority."
The former Justice Secretary was demoted to Minister Without Portfolio in last month's reshuffle with the role of advising the Government on the economy and security. Mr Clarke, 72, first became a cabinet minister 27 years ago.
Asked about how the Coalition compared with previous cabinets in which he had served, he said that John Major's government, which was split over the issue of Europe, was a "shambles".
But he surprised some in the audience by saying that the best cabinet discussions he had witnessed were those over which Margaret Thatcher presided.
Mr Clarke said: "Margaret was more collegiate. We're not back to where Margaret was but we're going that way. David is obviously, consciously trying to get collective government going. Coalition government makes it all the more imperative that it should."
The veteran Europhile put himself at odds with the majority of his party by strongly opposing holding a referendum on British membership of the EU.
He said: "To suddenly interrupt the progress of serious business in a crisis to have people running campaigns about whether we should leave or stay in the European Union … I can't think of anything more disruptive."
He said he was "slightly alarmed" by the resurgence of anti-European rhetoric in the party, arguing the Tories did better when they "stopped looking so obsessed with Europe". He also warned that in the past, they had become too anxious about losing voters to the anti-EU Ukip, when they were losing many more to the Liberal Democrats.
Calling on the party to deal more "robustly" with Ukip, he urged: "Don't give them credibility by imitating them because they are a cranky party."
He attributed Ukip's ability to capture seats in the European Parliament to public indifference to European elections.
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