Friday, May 14, 2010

First cracks in coalition as Tories query Europe and vote reform policies.

The love fest which we saw when Cameron and Clegg first faced the press could never have been expected to last for too long, but I am surprised by the speed at which some leading Tories have started to make their misgivings known.

Lord Heseltine, the Tory former Deputy Prime Minister, said the inevitable public spending cuts would cause "terrible strains" between the two coalition parties and within them. "We are living in a false dawn," he said. "The sun is shining. Let's enjoy it. It is not going to last very long... There is a rocky road ahead."

Tory MPs questioned the plan for the coalition to last for five years and doubted it would survive until the next general election.

Richard Drax, the new Tory MP for South Dorset, said he had grave concerns about how long the agreement would last. Although he could see why it had been made in the national interest, he added: "I have severe reservations about how long a coalition with the Lib Dems can last and about the consequences for our party in the long term. This is not what the public voted for – the Lib Dems lost seats. Why we're in this position, in my view, is because the public is fed up with all of us. They have now got a hung parliament, which I don't think most people wanted."

Mr Drax suggested Mr Cameron should have held back from a pact with Mr Clegg's party. "Then we'd have another general election – in a matter of weeks maybe – and I think if that had happened we'd have stormed home. [The electorate] would have seen first hand the consequences of a hung parliament and that would have helped people make a stronger choice."

And there we have it. Some Tories are furious at having to share power and are already dreaming of the day when they can go back to the polls and, so the plan goes, increase their share of the vote and dispense with the need to share power with the Liberal Democrats.

How many days into this are we? And they are talking this way already?

Ian Liddell-Grainger, Tory MP for Bridgwater, said the coalition would do well to last two years. "I think if it lasts a couple of years, this Government has done well. The Lib Dems will find it more difficult to take criticism than we will. Their history of being in government is pretty sad," he said.

He added that he had "never trusted the Lib Dems", and was scathing about their support for electoral reform. He said: "Electoral reform means hung parliaments, and MPs that you neither know nor see."

The notion that they can be talking this way a few days after the forming of the coalition, and that this coalition can last for five years, is simply fanciful.

Backbench Tory MP's are already fantasising about the day they can ditch the Lib Dems.

And already we hear rumours of backbench revolts on the Tory side of the fence.

Some Tory MPs privately threatened to vote against a Bill to call a referendum on the use of the alternative vote system for Commons elections.

There were also signs of a rebellion over the plan by the two party leaderships to require 55 per cent of MPs to support a dissolution of Parliament and trigger a general election, instead of a simple majority as at present. The change is designed to prevent either side walking out before five years, but several Tories are urging a rethink.

Charles Walker, MP for Broxbourne, said: "It is for Parliament to decide when it has lost confidence in a government." He added: "That is skewing the playing field. This would be the loss of an enormous check."

Defending the move, William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, said: "Once you agree that there should be a fixed-term Parliament, it is only fixed-term if there is some provision to really give it credibility to make it hard to dissolve Parliament, other than exceptional circumstances, part way through its five-year term."

I don't think Cameron will get his 55% rule passed as it (a) says a lot about his confidence in this coalition lasting that he wants to skewer the rules in this way; and (b) his own backbenchers don't want to be tied to the Liberal Democrats for five years.

This deal was reached by presenting both the Tory party and the Liberal Democrats with a choice already made by the leadership of both parties. Cameron and Clegg had already announced their partnership before either of their parties had had a chance to say whether they agreed or not.

The left wing of the Lib Dems and the right wing of the Tories went into this because they felt they had no other choice.

That was not an ideal way for this to begin. And now, a mere couple of days into the coalition, we hear the rumblings of Tory discontent.

I'm beginning to understand why Mandelson and Ed Balls looked so relived the night this poisoned chalice was handed to the Tories.

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