The Coalition will stay the course, but they won’t be getting the band back together after 2015

What can Cameron offer Clegg compared to the box of gifts from 2010?

Share

The joy of politics is its unpredictability, so when we look ahead to 2014 we risk doing so pointlessly. Nonetheless I make two predictions that I am confident will prove to be correct.

The first is a widely held view. The second is not. But I am as certain about the second as I am about the first. Here is the easy one: the Con/Lib coalition will last the course until close to the 2015 election. Here is the more contentious forecast: there will be no Con/Lib coalition after the next election even if there is another hung parliament in which the Conservatives hold the largest number of seats.

Before I explain why there will be no continuation of this particular coalition I must acknowledge that this is not a view currently held by Nick Clegg, a leader who is genuinely equidistant between the other parties and willing to work with either depending on the outcome of the election. Clegg’s approach to pluralist politics reminds me of Tony Blair’s attitude towards working with presidents of the US. He did so whatever their political affiliations. I recall taking part in a discussion on Newsnight during the 2004 presidential election campaign in which I debated with another columnist which candidate Blair privately wanted to win. A few days later I bumped into Alastair Campbell who told me that in a competitive field it was one of the most preposterous political discussions he had seen. Rightly Campbell pointed out that Blair had no personal inclination either way. He was determined to work closely with whoever was President of the US and that was the end of it.

The same applies to Clegg in terms of his attitude to the other parties. There is no point speculating which party Clegg would prefer to work with if there is another hung parliament. He will seek to do a deal with the party that has the largest number of seats. No doubt he clings to this approach with a sincere sense of duty, although as Andrew Adonis pointed out in his excellent book on the immediate aftermath of the last election, the obligation to form a partnership with the largest party is not shared in other countries where coalitions are more common.

If David Cameron leads the largest party after the election and Clegg turns to him in expectation of a deal he will find that none is possible. For a start, Cameron would be in an extremely precarious position. All the leadership speculation in relation to Cameron this year has been froth. He will lead his party into the election and is by far the best candidate to do so. But if he fails to secure an overall majority at his second attempt I know of Conservative MPs who plan to strike soon after. In an act close to political genius, Cameron managed to turn his failure to win the 2010 election into an opportunity for the Conservatives by forming the Coalition. His party will not give him the space to move so decisively next time.

Nor has Cameron got as much to offer Clegg in such circumstances. Indeed, here is a game for political addicts to play over the New Year. What can Cameron offer Clegg in 2015 compared with the box of gifts handed over to the Lib Dems’ leader in 2010? I can think of no equivalents to the offer of a referendum on electoral reform, Lords reform and the rest. Clegg failed to make the most of the gifts, but at the time they were very big reasons for Clegg to say yes and to convince his party to sign up.

The fundamental factor in the deal then was a remarkable unity in relation to economic policy – remarkable in the sense that the Lib Dems’ approach before the election was closer to Labour’s and because of the discipline that both parties have shown since. That pivotal unity is breaking down. Vince Cable’s pre-Christmas interview with Andrew Marr made waves because of what he said about the differences between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats over immigration. There was nothing new in this. What was much more striking was Cable’s new emphasis on the dangers of more sweeping public spending cuts.

Cable’s support for George Osborne’s austerity package since 2010 has been constant. But as the Chancellor seeks further deep cuts in a second term, Cable has indicated opposition. “We’ve got to have a sensible balance between pressure on public spending, which is getting very severe – actually, some very good services are now being seriously affected – and tax.”

There is no longer ideological unity on the Coalition’s central project. Osborne states regularly he does not believe the spending cuts have had a negative impact on public services. Cable knows that some of them have. There is no chance of another agreement in which both parties sign up to further deep spending cuts.

As both sides realise there will be no sequel, tensions will grow. But they’ll dance awkwardly until 2015.

Skeleton public transport is not enough in the festive period

As usual at this time of year the train services have been hopeless. Most of the disruption arises from a reluctance to invest enough in infrastructure and staff. Presumably it is cheaper for the various companies and Network Rail to deliver chaos than to avoid it.

On Christmas Eve, friends came to visit us in London from Brighton. Their journey took five hours and involved so many old buses and creaking trains that they felt they had been in a very slow version of the Antiques Roadshow. As I write, most of the trains back to Brighton are cancelled. The weather is stormy, but I look out and see people on bikes. If cyclists can keep going, vehicles with powerful engines should not find it wholly impossible.

I am not romanticising the era of nationalised railways, but at least they ran regular services on Boxing Day when there is considerable demand. Now there is no more than a skeleton service if you are lucky. Public transport is as important a service as any in civilised countries. If it is viewed first and foremost as a vehicle for making money and there is no proper competition, then who can blame the companies for keeping costs to a minimum?

Decent provision of services over Christmas and New Year should be part of the deal when train companies sign their generous contracts.

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Glazier

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This specialist historic buildi...

Recruitment Genius: Office and Customer Services Manager

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small but very busy (and f...

Recruitment Genius: Portfolio Administrator

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has become known a...

Recruitment Genius: Mechanical and Electrical Engineer - Midlands

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of refrig...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Builders have been taking on apprentices and even turning to sources such as army veterans for workers  

The march of the apprentices

Chris Blackhurst
Mukesh Singh, who appears in the film, was sentenced to death for his part in the 2012 rape  

The depressing similarity between the Delhi rapist Mukesh Singh and Oxford's Police

Sophia Cannon
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot