The strange Conservative strategy

Imagine you’re a slightly excitable aide to Ed Miliband and plotting how he can be Prime Minister by Christmas, with you getting a new nice job in 10 Downing Street as a result. What would your plan be?

Knowing that we now have fixed-term Parliaments, what you would want to plot is a falling out between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, which might – just might – result in the Lib Dems saying ‘sod you lot; Ed – do you fancy a go?’.

How might you go about trying to pull off this unlikely occurrence?

Well, first you want to pick an issue that many Liberal Democrat activists feel really strongly about, such as political reform.

Then you would want to find something which was promised in the Coalition Agreement – to double the Lib Dem angst.

Next, you would hope and pray for (and perhaps give a few subtle nudges to encourage) Conservative MPs to vote in large numbers against your selected issue, leading to lots of Liberal Democrat unhappiness.

To really add to the Lib Dem angst, you’d even been hoping for them not only to break the deal but then act with outrage when anyone suggests to them there might be any consequences of them breaking the coalition deal. Perhaps a few hotheads from the Tories will really help out by labelling the suggestion that there might be consequences if they break a deal as ‘blackmail’. Nothing like a little touch of arrogant assumption that you can break a deal with impunity to really annoy Liberal Democrats, you may well think.

Then you’d quietly slip up to a few Lib Dems and say, “Look, we know hung Parliaments are tough and – frankly – doing a deal with Labour wouldn’t have been a bed of roses for you either. But just look at those Tories: large numbers of them have broken the deal and think they should be able to do so without any comeback. Do you really think things are going to work out in future? However, Ed’s willing to offer you this rather nice alternative…”

Unlikely? For sure.

But what’s weird about it is the enthusiasm of so many Conservative MPs to follow the script. It’s a strange, strange strategy to take.

UPDATE: Nick Thornsby makes some good related points over on Lib Dem Voice.

26 responses to “The strange Conservative strategy”

  1. I don't think the public would react very well to a change in government without an election and we (the Lib Dems) would get the blame.

    • We might have a change in government anyway, though, a change from coalition to a minority Conservative government. I personally believe this is inevitable at some point over the next two years. The Lib Dems and Tories will need to start opposing each other's policies at some time before the start of the next election campaign. In my view that would be more effective if they were not in government with each other.
      I also tend to the view that joining the opposition benches, say, 18 months before the next general election, would give the Lib Dems the best chance to revive their position in the polls, re-engage with their disillusioned former voters, give a more candid account of why they went into coalition, why they supported some bills and policies that they would have supported had they had a majority etc etc.
      Having strong Lib Dem representation in parliament is good for democracy, and I think the Lib Dems need to think about the best strategy to optimise their 2015 performance. For me it seems obvious that they must do two things at least 12 months before the next election. They need to leave the coalition, and they need to replace their leader.

    • "why they supported some bills and policies that they would have supported had they had a majority etc etc."

      Should say "would not have supported" – duh…

  2. I'd find a more convincing scenario that, Labour knowing Tories would rebel, would have voted against. Hence the bill fails. Lib Dems get mad at the Tories and split the coalition. A General Election is called and Labour win with a landslide.

    I don't think there is any way in this world that Ed would offer Clegg anything and wouldn't need to.

    • But *if* the Lib Dems throw their toys out of the pram and vote against continuing the coalition, Labour can then force a General Election by voting against the new proposed government (which would have to be a Lab-LD-minor party rainbow).

    • Labour wouldn't be likely to offer us a coalition though. Especially given Ed's personal dislike of Clegg if nothing else.

  3. Any supporter of the coalition who claims to be a Conservative is not a true Conservative. Like their LibDem partners in crime, they are simply in it for personal power. The sooner the coalition splits the better because it will give the electorate the opportunity to demonstrate to the LibDems what they think of their enthusiasm to sell their souls for a pathetic taste of power. Prior to 2010 I had a grudging respect for LibDems who fought on with passion and conviction knowing they couldn't win. They should be ashamed of themselves now. Splitting the coalition sounds like a sensible and true Conservative strategy to me. Bring on an election – and while we're at it – a referendum to get us out of the EU.

  4. The plot to end the coalition seems to be entirely the child of Tory backbenchers. Like it or not, Labour are not committed to following the Coalition Agreement. Seems odd to attack Labour for opposing while in opposition. The reallly interesting thing here is how split the Tory Party is regarding the coalition. Many clearly can't wait for it to end as soon as possible. And that has nothing to do with Labour.
    Sometimes it is the Tories who are to blame (including Cameron, who gave out mixed signals to his party), and not Labour. The Lib Dems continued tendency to forgive the Tories every insult, while blaming everything on Labour smacks of little more than sophistry and desperation.

    • I don't think it's odd to attack Labour (on any opposition party) for opposing things they said they would have supported if they had been voted in. Opposing what they said they were against is of course reasonable, but being in opposition doesn't mean you should start opposing things you would have done yourself.

    • @Mark.
      Your argument is flawed. Labour supported the second reading of the bill. You appear to be under the misapprehension that Labour opposed the second reading, that is incorrect. Labour supported what they proposed in their manifesto. You should also note that Labour promised a referendum on Lords reform in their manifesto. Labour have not voted against anything that was in their manifesto. There is a debate to be had regarding what constitutes adequate time for debating the bill, and if I am honest, I think there has been some playing of politics by Labour on that issue. But that is nothing to the sophistey of Lib Dems trying to claim Labour has opposed the bill, they did not, and it is nothing compard to the way Lib dems have gone out of their way to criticise Labour, while protecting the Tories. Had Labour opposed this second reading, the bill would now be dead. Many more Tories opposed this second reading, or abstained (91 opposed, 50 abstained), compared to Labour MPs. And yet you concentrate your attack on the party that just saved this bill.
      I find it strange that Lib Dems continue to defend the Tories and blame Labour, ignoring the facts to make deeply incoherent and sophistic arguments! And you wonder why your party has lost all credibility.
      I am amazed by the Lib Dems ability to look at the facts, and construct an argument devoid of any logic from those facts!

    • Alun – where did I say that Labour opposed the 2nd reading?

      I do agree with you Labour's behaviour over the timing of debates shows them playing politics as the said that 10 days debate was not enough – but then when people like Sadiq Khan have been asked in interviews etc. how many days would be enough they have repeatedly dodged the question.

      I note though that you've not come back on my point that oppositions shouldn't oppose things if they'd previously said they would do them, so I take it you agree with me on that 🙂

      As for criticising only Labour – my post hardly does that, does it?

    • Mark Pack
      "where did I say that Labour opposed the 2nd reading?"

      What you said was:
      "I don't think it's odd to attack Labour (on any opposition party) for opposing things they said they would have supported if they had been voted in."

      My point was that Labour supported the second reading, so they actually were supporting the bill to reform the Lords. I think your claim that Labour were "opposing things they said they would have supported if they had been voted in." does not fit with the facts. Labour supported the bill, their manifesto included Lords reform, and Labour voted for Lords reform. Indeed, without Labour support, the bill would have failed the second reading, because some 91 Tories voted against, enough to defeat their own government.

      My personal preference would have been for Labour to support the programme motion. But the programme motion was never introduced by the government, so they never had the opportunity to vote either for, or against that. There was one vote held, and many more Tories voted against the government, than Labour MPs.

      Furthermore, when one looks at the Labour manifesto, it called for a referendum on Lords reform. So Labour would be entirely within their rights to oppose a bill that did not allow for a referendum, as this would be consistent with their manifesto commitment! So when you say labour is not supporting something they agreed to in their manifesto, that is actually only partially true.

    • True, we'd be back into a Rainbow Coalition maths James – unstable, tricky but for Labour it gives them power again and for the SNP etc. would they really pass up on the chance to vote the Tories out?

    • The rainbow coalition has enough on paper, but do you really think a five (minimum) party coalition is actually possible? Calling it unstable is like calling Darmstadtium unstable. There is a reason that Labour didn't seriously pursue a rainbow coalition in 2010.

      Given the childishness of certain Lib Dems over the last 26 months, the bribes that would be needed to keep the DUP and SNP onside, not to mention keeping the SDLP happy are frightening.

    • Mark Pack "for Labour it gives them power again"

      I don't buy it. It would give Labour government, but not power. Look at the problems the two party coalition are having! Imagine a minority two party coalition, dependent on supply and demand from an eclectic group of Unionists and Nationalists! It would be the very best way for Miliband to ensure he lost the 2015 election!

      There is nothing in it for Miliband. In electoral terms it is better for Miliband to continue to watch the Tory Party implode.

      If the Lib Dems leave the coalition, then we're going to be stuck with a minority Tory government. In my view that is not only the most likely scenario, I think it is extremely likely to happen at some time over the next year or so. If for no other reason than because I think it would benefit the Lib Dems electorally far more than sticking out the coalition to the bitter end.

    • It'd be a five-party coalition in name only. SDLP and Alliance MPs are de facto part of the major party blocs already, taking the whip, so if you bring Plaid Cymru you've already got a coalition whose defeat would require an improbable alliance of Conservative and SNP votes. Persuade Labour and SNP to play nicely together and it'd be no weaker than present as a Lib-Lab-Nat deal.

    • I make it that, with Labour, SDLP, Lib Dem and Alliance, you'd have 315 MPs. A majority requires 326. Excluding the Sinn Fein MPs, a majority still requires 323, by my reckoning, you're still five seats short, even with Plaid on board. If you require Plaid, and the SNP to play ball, you're talking about a really, really difficult situation. Look at the problems Cameron is having with his backbenchers. Labour backbenchers can be just as stroppy, if not more so, plenty of small "c" conservatives in Labour!
      How could Labour square being in government with the SNP, when the SNP are demanding a referendum on leaving the UK, and Labour are opposing it?
      No, Labour have nothing to gain from attempting such a deal, and everything to lose. It would be a 100% guaranteed way for them to lose the next election! There would be enough strife between Labour and the Lib Dems, let alone the added strife of trying to keep the SNP and Plaid happy.
      Anyone who thinks Labour would be at all interested in such a thing can't have seriously thought this through.

    • Oh, I agree they may well not be interested in the current state, it was purely hypothetical 🙂 My point was essentially that as *no-one* is interested in going into Westminster coalition with the SNP, they can to some degree be counted out of the maths as with Sinn Fein, and a Lib-Lab-PC coalition would be rather more manageable. Ultimately that was a conversation for May 2010 though; the ship has sailed and that outcome would have presented merely a different set of problems to those we have at present, not been a panacaea.

  5. "which might – just might – result in the Lib Dems saying ‘sod you lot; Ed – do you fancy a go?"

    There is zero chance of that ever happening. Much, much more likely, if the Lib Dems get fed up enough with the coalition, is a minority Tory government. There is nothing in it for Labour, they only need to look at history, Callahan and Major had enough problems with their own minority administrations, and those were not even coalitions, and Cameron is barely keeping his party together, why would Miliband want to join a coalition that did not even have a majority, when as things stand, he could win the next election with a majority? He would be a PM for barely 2 years at the fag end of a parliament, and would probably lose the next election badly (indeed, a Lib/Lab coalition would benefit the Lib Dems more than Labour the way things currently stand). Better (in purely electoral terms) for Miliband to continue to watch the Tories implode (and let's be honest, Lib Dem unity has been a revelation during this parliament!). So Miliband will politely rebuff any lib Dem overtures for coalition. Then there is a bigger chance, but still slim, of an early election. That would require a vote of no confidence in the government, even with the Lib Dems moving into opposition, and leaving a Tory minority, there is little to appeal to the Lib Dems in an early election, so they will support confidence and supply motions to any Cameron minority government. The only other possibility of an early election would be if both Labour and the Tories supported an early dissolution, meeting the 67% requirement. I can't see any circumstance where both Labour and the Tories would want to go for an election simultaneously. Currently I think Labour would want one, but not the Tories, as Labour would win, if we believe the polls.
    So I personally think this thesis is based on a pretty flawed analysis of the current state of affairs.

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