David Cameron may have to plead with Nick Clegg to maintain their coalition even after an outright Tory general election victory. Photograph: Charlie Bibby/Financial Times
Tories are joking that David Cameron may have to beg the Liberal Democrats to stay in the coalition even after an outright Conservative general election victory.
The growing belief that the coalition may have to last beyond the next general election in 2015 does not represent a triumph for Nick Boles, the MP for Grantham and Stamford, who called in September for a formal pact between the two parties.
There is a much simpler explanation. A hardcore group of Tory MPs on the right of the party, who are setting themselves against Cameron's leadership, would make his life hell if the Conservatives scrapped home with a John Major-style 21 seat majority.
One of the right wingers gave me a flavour of the group's thinking after last night's meeting of the 1922 Tory committee addressed by the prime minister. In remarks that were highlighted in the chamber today by the shadow leader of the house Hilary Benn, the MP said:
The coalition is an imperial clique.
The Tories on the right have gripes which range from Europe to penal policy. But for many, their anger about the coalition runs deeper than specific policy areas. They simply do not like an over-mighty executive and would be just as awkward if Cameron won an overall majority.
The Tory who spoke of the coalition as an imperial clique went on to say:
It is remote. It took Tony Blair six years to get like this. We want to stand up to the executive and beef up the legislator.
The rebels experienced a day of mixed fortunes yesterday. Tory whips, who are growing increasingly contemptuous of the rebels, gloated after a handful of the rebels suffered a humiliating result when they opposed the bill authorising the loan to the Republic of Ireland.
Whips ran round shouting "523 to seven" after the coalition won the support of the Labour party to approve the loan by 523 votes to seven. Tory eurosceptics did win limited cross-party support. Kate Hoey and Dennis Skinner, the veteran Labour eurosceptics, trooped though the no lobby with five Tories.
Some of the wiser Tory rebels were irritated with the gloating by the whips because they said the 523-7 vote was irrelevant. Many of the serious rebels supported the government in that vote, or abstained, as they kept their powder dry for a much more important vote at 5.30pm last night. This was an amendment to the loan bill that would have given MPs greater powers in setting the rate of interest for the loan to Ireland.
Bill Cash, the veteran Tory eurosceptic who tabled the amendment, lost the vote but by a more respectable margin of 242 to 301. The rebels regarded this vote as much more significant because four groups came together to oppose the coalition:
• The Labour party supported the loan to Ireland in the main 523-7 vote but whipped its MPs to support the Cash amendment.
• Old Tories such as the senior backbencher and former shadow cabinet member, Bernard Jenkin.
• Tory radicals such as Douglas Carswell, a free thinking backbencher who is becoming an increasingly influential figure.
• A radical outside the mainstream – the only Green MP Caroline Lucas.
An alliance between the Labour party and the Tory rebels, reminiscent of the way in which the Maastricht rebels conspired with Labour in the early 1990s, could be a potent threat to the coalition. One Labour frontbencher said:
The coalition is fragile. If we work with great care we can fracture it.
The Tory rebels discussed tactics with Labour in the run up to the 5.30pm vote yesterday. It was noticeable that Labour did not table amendments in the first section of the Ireland loan bill. This made it more likely that the Bill Cash amendment would be called.
Labour believes that its growing alliance with the Tory rebels could eventually defeat the coalition. It needs to assemble 323 votes to defeat the coalition. This is how it hopes to assemble the numbers:
• 253 Labour MPs.
• 23 "Rainbow coalition" MPs – eight DUP, six SNP, three Plaid Cymru, three SDLP, one Northern Ireland Alliance Party, one Green, one independent Ulster Unionist.
• Two independendent Labour MPs.
This gives the opposition 278 votes, 45 short of the 323 threshold. Shadow ministers believe that if they can find an issue to win over a sizeable chunk of Tory rebels and disgruntled Liberal Democrats then they could defeat the government.
But Labour and the Tory rebels will have to be wily if they are to defeat the government. Many Tories talked about rebelling against the coalition on the tuition fees vote. In the end just six voted against the government.
Jonathan Isaby, of ConservativeHome fame, points out that the amendment voted on at 5.27pm yesterday (not 5.30pm) was tabled by Douglas Carswell after Bill Cash withdrew his amendment. Jonathan has blogged on the 27 Tories who supported the Carswell amendment.
Thursday, 16 December 2010
Tory right may force David Cameron into permanent marriage with Nick Clegg | Politics | guardian.co.uk