David Cameron will face strong opposition from Conservative Party members if he tries to form a second coalition with the Liberal Democrats after the 2015 election.
A survey of 850 Tory members found that only one in three (33 per cent) believes Mr Cameron was right to form the Coalition with Nick Clegg in 2010. With hindsight, the Conservative grassroots would have preferred a minority Tory government (41 per cent) or an immediate second general election (24 per cent).
The disenchantment with the Coalition is echoed by many Tory MPs, who complain that Mr Cameron treats his partnership with Mr Clegg as an equal one even though the Tories won 306 seats to the Lib Dems’ 57 at the last election.
Yet some Conservative ministers admit it will be hard for the party to win an overall majority in 2015 and are privately raising the prospect of a continuing coalition. Although they would never say it in public, some ministers would even prefer a second Con-Lib government to a small overall Tory majority, which could leave Mr Cameron at the mercy of a handful of right-wing MPs. “It would be like John Major’s government all over again,” said one. “The hardline Eurosceptics would cause mayhem in the run-up to the EU referendum [in 2017].”
Some Tory MPs complain that Mr Cameron bounced them into a coalition in 2010 and will demand to be fully consulted in the event of another hung parliament. Some right-wing critics claim he could face an immediate leadership challenge if he fails to win an overall majority for a second time, although other MPs doubt that his enemies would try to dislodge a prime minister at a time when the country needed stability.
The YouGov poll for Queen Mary, University of London, shows that Tory members are much more hostile to the Coalition than Tory voters, who favour the Cameron-Clegg partnership by a margin of 56 to 40 per cent.
Professor Tim Bale, from Queen Mary’s School of Politics and International Relations, said the ideology of some Tory members was driving their negative attitude to coalition. They are “significantly more conservative” than Mr Cameron on social issues like gay marriage rather than on the economy or public services, on which there is widespread grassroots support for spending cuts to reduce the deficit.
Euroscepticism is more popular among those members who opposed going into coalition in 2010. Among those who are pro-coalition, only 54 per cent would vote to leave the EU if there were a referendum tomorrow. But among members who would have preferred a minority government or second election, the figure rises to 79 and 80 per cent respectively.
However, Professor Bale added: “Whether they like it or not, the overwhelming majority of them – eight of out ten, in fact – would carry on with the Coalition after the next election if that were the only way that the Tories could hold on to Number 10. Ideology matters to the Conservative grassroots, but not as much as staying in power.”
Tory members who are sceptical about the Coalition are significantly more likely to be tempted to vote for the UK Independence Party. As previously reported, almost one in five (19 per cent) of Tory members are seriously considering voting for Nigel Farage’s anti-EU party and only one in three say they would never consider voting for it.
Some 42 per cent of Conservative members feel they are not respected very much by the party leadership, while 38 per cent think they are given a fair amount of respect. Some 11 per cent say they are not respected at all, with only 7 per cent believing they are respected a lot.