Following the formation of the Conservative / Liberal Democrat Coalition Government last spring, there was much immediate speculation about whether or not the Coalition would really last its intended full five years. Stories such as the Metro’s Voters say the Lib-Con coalition government will not last full term were common.
Now, however, such stories are the rare exception. That isn’t just because the media mood has moved on to other questions, but also because the list of reasons for believing it will last are stacking up.
1. Cameron and Clegg have continued to repeatedly say the Coalition is for five years: the more they say it, the greater the political cost to either of them or their parties for ending it.
2. The economy is recovering but only manufacturing is booming: even the most optimistic believers in the government’s economic strategy do not think it will start bringing significant political benefits for several years.
3. The Coalition has survived its first round of major policy strains: most Liberal Democrats dislike tuition fees, most Conservatives dislike electoral reform – yet the Coalition has survived the controversies in Parliament on both issues without anyone significant calling for the Coalition to end.
4. Fixed-term Parliaments: with legislation to fix the Parliament at five years going through Parliament, the possibility of David Cameron calling a snap election will soon be removed from him. Any fall of the Coalition would leave a new Government having to work with the existing numerical structure of Parliament, and in particular…
5. Labour shows no hurry of wanting to get back in power: for all the sound and fury of opposition, the Labour Party is not acting like a party that is seriously trying to get back into power before the next general election. Ed Miliband’s call for a widespread policy review is a sensible move for a party voted out after such a long period in power, but it also is based on an assumption that Labour does not need to have a program for government for a good few years yet. Moreover, Labour’s style of opposition – such as over the changes to Parliamentary constituency boundaries – has far more often been of a style that drives the coalition partners together, rather than apart.
6. The least popular Coalition partner is not talking of pulling out: the Liberal Democrats’ poll rating may have been most hit by going into coalition, but at the party’s spring conference in Sheffield, talk of Coalition having been a mistake or something that should be ended was absent. Even during the debate on the NHS, when a centrepiece government policy was repeatedly and heavily criticised, not one speaker suggested either that Coalition was wrong or should be ended. Nor did any speaker during the party’s lengthy strategy debate.
7. Both Coalition partners have a policy prize awaiting them later in Parliament: for Conservative MPs there is the hope that better economic times during the second-half of the Parliament will provide the space for some of their much-loved tax cuts. For Liberal Democrats there is the Coalition Agreement’s promise of a mostly-elected Upper House using “proportional representation”. Having PR for half of Parliament is a major prize for the party – but one that will not pass through Parliament in a hurry.
As I’ve said before, the public has a habit of making fools of those who make political predictions, and the combination of election and referendum results in May could provide the coaltion’s toughest period so far. But given the powerful factors supporting a long-lastiong coaltion, even bad results for both coalition parties won’t break the coalition.