Wheeling and dealingPosted on August 8, 2010
Conservative Home’s poll of Conservative party members explores an interesting idea this week – should the Coalition partners step aside for each other in key seats at the next election?
The results are mixed – 55% of Conservatives think it “may be necessary” but are withholding final judgement, but 35% view the idea of a non-agression pact as “totally unacceptable”.
This is an extremely sticky topic. The Coalition partners don’t need to decide yet, or for quite some time, but they will eventually have to make their minds up about what to do. They will be desperate to avoid discussing it for as long as possible, because the eventual decision will crystallise what the Coalition is really all about – is it a temporary and uncomfortable marriage of convenience, a happy and lasting ideological meeting of minds or something between the two?
It also plumbs the existential questions which the Liberal Democrats have brought upon themselves by joining the Coalition in the first place. The polls already show them suffering not because people dislike what the Government is doing but because people are starting to wonder what the point in voting Lib Dem is. If they are seen to be too keen on a non-aggression pact it could be interpreted as a sign that they are scared to face the public, but there are great electoral risks if they try to fight every seat.
Consider the recent history of non-aggression pacts. The Better Off Out campaign, which I launched when I worked at The Freedom Association, brokered a deal that UKIP would not stand against true, out and out anti-EU Conservatives. In places like Shipley (Philip Davies) and Harwich and Clacton (Douglas Carswell) it worked fantastically, helping to land whopping majorities for anti-EU MPs in previously marginal constituencies.
The problems came in places where UKIP couldn’t control their local activists, who broke the deal their leaders had agreed to. Instead of trust and co-operation, you end up with an embarrassing mud-slinging match.
The rebellion in UKIP only really sprung up in the South West, but it’s a safe bet that such disobedience would be far more widespread if there was a deal sewn up between the Conservatives and the Lib Dems. If 35% of Tories deeply oppose a deal, then a lot more Liberal Democrats would probably do so. Could Nick Clegg and David Cameron bring them all to heel?
Tags: Better Off Out, Coalition, Conservatives, David Cameron, Douglas Carswell, Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, opinion, Pact, Parliament, Philip Davies, Politics, The Freedom Association, Westminster