Despite the rifts, the Coalition will stagger on until the election. But can you imagine Cameron and Clegg reunited in the rose garden?

There are Tory MPs aching for a brief period of minority government

 

Share

The two parties in the Coalition row noisily. The noise is more significant than the substance of the arguments. The latest eruption is between Michael Gove and senior Liberal Democrats, but listen to Tory MPs, and the Education Secretary is by no means alone in his disdain for… who/what?

Belatedly the Liberal Democrats fight back. They have no choice, as they struggle to avoid a catastrophic outcome in this month’s elections. With Ukip breathing down their necks, the Conservatives are likewise compelled to stress how different they are from their partners in government. From free schools to crime and, of course, Europe, the electoral pressures oblige the two governing parties to show how much they disagree with each other.

In recent days I have spoken to senior figures from all three main parties, and they all contemplate the possibility of a break-up of the Coalition before the election next year. A member of the Shadow Cabinet suggests that the TV debates will be the trigger.

David Cameron has made clear that he wants some or all of the televised events to take place before the campaign gets under way, rightly arguing that the last ones sucked the life out of the contest, as well as his hope of securing an overall majority. If the debates are staged earlier, some in Labour predict that the Coalition will end this autumn, on the basis that it would be unsustainable for Cameron and Clegg to debate on TV as PM and Deputy PM.

Meanwhile, some Liberal Democrats assume that a slaughter in this month’s elections will lead to fresh calls for an end to the Coalition so that their party can assert its distinctiveness decisively. On the other side there are Tory MPs aching for a brief period of minority government.

In spite of these hopes and arguments, an early ending will not happen. Party self-interest is too complex. Above all other considerations Nick Clegg needs to argue at the election that coalition government works in the UK. If this one breaks up prematurely in a mood of mutual animosity, his already limited arsenal of arguments in favour of coalition disappears completely. The claim “Coalition works”, as he strides out early from the current one, will strike yet another discordant note, as difficult to explain as his opposition to tuition fees at the last election.

For Cameron to lead a minority government for a few months would be a nightmare, at a time when he needs to appear at his most authoritative. Both sides will cling on until the end. They have agreed a Queen’s Speech over which they can unite on the few occasions when Parliament sits between now and the election.

But the public tensions will have one very important long-term consequence. They make it impossible for another Con/Lib Dem coalition to form after the next election. Governing is partly dependent on a sense of unity and purpose. The early energetic phase of the Coalition, although leading to some ill thought-through policy-making, had both. All governments suffer from fuming divisions, but this one is unique in that it is now in the interests of the governing parties to highlight the tensions rather than suppress them. Acts of public hostility sap a political project of life in a way that private divisions do not.

Gove, an early enthusiast for the Coalition and one of those who wondered whether the partnership would lead to a permanent realignment on the right, clashes with senior Lib Dems over so-called free schools. He is one of the heroes of the right-wing media, and in much of his party, for the depth of his ideological convictions. It is impossible to imagine another five years of Gove constrained by Lib Dems, even if his convictions are transferred to another department. The same applies to a range of Tory ministers on the radical right.

On the other side Clegg told Paddy Ashdown in 2010 that he thought the Tory party had changed under Cameron’s leadership. Ashdown explained to me recently in a BBC interview that they both realise Clegg’s verdict on the Tories then was too generous, while still passionately defending the decision to join the Coalition. Again the public nature of Ashdown’s observation is significant.

A second Con/Lib coalition would seem like an act of dishonesty rather than a sincere attempt to respond to the voters’ indecision. What would Cameron and Clegg say when they held a joint press conference a few days after the next election? How could they declare their readiness to work together for another five years when their parties had disagreed so loudly for the previous 12 months?

One consequence of fixed-term parliaments is that at the beginning the course looks intimidatingly long, like the start of a marathon. These two parties will run raggedly together towards the finishing line. They will be in no state to start a second marathon after the election.

Twitter: @steverichards14

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Women are working in some of the lowest-paid sectors such as cleaning, catering and caring  

Women's wages have gone backwards. Labour would give women the pay they deserve

Gloria de Piero
 

Taking on Ukip requires a delicate balancing act for both main parties

Andrew Grice
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker