David Maddox: A coalition divorce will not be good news for David Cameron
THE tensions within the coalition have increasingly looked like a game of chicken in recent months, in the sense the question many observers have been asking is whether it is the Tories or Lib Dems will run away first.
It appears that we may be closer to an answer, with party sources suggesting that talks have opened between Downing Street and senior backbenchers over arranging a divorce from their partners in government or as one Tory MP succinctly put it “those jumped-up yellow bastards.”
This may be why Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg yesterday decided to accelerate a potential divorce with his announcement over the dropping of Lords reform but blocking the boundary changes the Tories were so desperate for.
The proposal that is being bandied around is that there is a coalition divorce in 2014 and the Tories lead a minority government with a confidence and supply arrangement with the Lib Dems which kept them in power. Whether Mr Clegg and the other Lib Dem ministers who appear to rather enjoy the trappings of power would be so happy with this is a moot point.
But some Tory MPs would like it to end now, especially if the Lib Dems see through the threat of scuppering the boundary changes.
One said: “Just let them [the Lib Dems] try [to stop the boundary changes]. If we have an election now we will lose, but they [the Lib Dems] will be wiped out.”
But the story in fact says a lot more about the state of the Tories under David Cameron than it does about the ill health of the coalition. Basically, the Prime Minister is losing control and the “nasty party”, as Theresa May once called it, is on its way back.
The House of Lords rebellion showed that Mr Cameron was not just struggling to contain the eurosceptic right-wingers and Thatcherite economic wing of the party, but also that many of the young modernisers.
It is perhaps not coincidental that he began to lose control of the backbenches when former defence secretary Liam Fox, a standard bearer for the right, was forced out but not replaced by another right winger.
The Scotsman has heard that sports minister Hugh Robertson, enjoying something of an Olympic bounce and liked by Tory right-wingers, has refused to accept any bookings to speak at the party’s conference this autumn until after 15 September because, friends say, he is expecting a promotion to the Cabinet. He may well end up with his boss Jeremy Hunt’s job but more likely to go is Baroness Warsi who is generally seen as ineffective by many Tories and many think that Justice Secretary Ken Clarke’s frontline ministerial career is over.
In this context Mr Cameron is increasingly looking like a Prime Minister not entirely in control of his party and unless he can get a grip on MPs, the fate of the Coalition may be out of his hands.
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