Meanwhile….back in Westminster, behind the Beach Volleyball court (odd that the government agreed to that! I hope the sight of pretty ladies in bikini’s out the back window isn’t detracting any civil servants too much), the UK coalition government is under serious threat. The planned reforms of the house of Lords has been dropped, largely as a result of Pimms swilling Tories who baulked at the prospect of an elected 2nd chamber, which would inevitably see commoners (too them the great unwashed) floating around. As a consequence, Nick Clegg has accused the Torys of breaking the coalition contract. It would seem the Lib Dems are about to go rogue (or finally growing a spine!), with suggestions that they will vote against efforts to change electoral boundaries.
This is a bit more serious that it would seem at first glance. We have coalition governments all the time in Ireland, and based on my experience of such coalitions, I’d say, unless the Tory’s can very quickly charm the lib dems back to the table, we’re now a year or less away from an election. Once these sorts of tit for tat bouts between ruling parties starts, it generally grows (as politicians on both sides build up resentment and mistrust), until eventually the government looses a vote of no confidence and an election is called.
Up until now, the Tories have been operating according to a plan, critics call, Operation Liberal Shield, where their buddies in the right wing media blame everything that goes wrong (even if its ultimately a Tory policy that’s at fault) on Nick Clegg and the lib dems. This has meant, as local elections have shown, that the lib dems have been the biggest losers in terms of public support and are likely facing annihilation come next election.
However there is an important dynamic at work which the Tories are neglecting. It means the lib dems know they now have nothing to loose. If there’s is an election, while yes they know they’ll likely get wiped out, that will probably happen regardless of the timing of the election, so they’ve every incentive to grab the Troy’s by the ankles and dragging them down with them. This is not an unusual occurrence in a coalition in other countries, when the junior party realizes they’ve little to gain any more from cooperation (indeed that’s the problem, there is no cooperation anymore!), ultimately then bringing about the downfall of the larger ruling party and an election where both parties are generally punished at the polls.
Consequently, the Tories now have three choices. Firstly, go to the country now while post-Olympic euphoria is at a high. Of course the risk with an election now (current opinion poll status of the party’s here), is they will loose seats, lead to a hung parliament with the Tories lacking a majority, nor any party willing to go into coalition with them, thus a rainbow coalition led by labour is the likely outcome.
So option two is, in order to keep the lib dems sweet, they drop one or two policy’s and let the lib dems have their way on a few things (gay marriage seems like a likely option, reimposing the 50p tax or a similar rich tax, ditching nuclear power another). Of course the problem with this strategy is that David Cameron’s control over his own back benchers (as revealed by their rebellion over lords reform, or any matter relating to Europe) is tenuous at best. Cameron could risk splitting his own party with such a strategy.
Which brings us to option number three, the default option I suspect that will be taken. The Tory’s continue with operation liberal shield in the face of a lib dem party that is increasingly willing to vote down Tory policy’s (the Mail’s nickname for Clegg could soon be Dr No) which will enviably mean institutional paralysis, until sooner or later it gets put out of its misery by labour (or Vince Cable!).