What's up? Lord Marland second peer to quit coalition in days
Quit while your friends are still in power – the City won't be nearly so impressed by losers
THE DEPARTURE from the government of Lord Marland, the business minister, hard on the heels of fatty Strathclyde, the Leader in the Lords, is worrying some senior Conservatives who wonder if two lords a-leaping could be the start of a stampede for the exits before a general election Tory defeat in 2015.
Marland must know that the value of ex-ministers in the City is greatest when their friends are still in power, but diminishes dramatically after a general election defeat when their contacts are in opposition.
Which poses the question - how many more ministers are quietly waiting for the opportunity to jump the sinking ship and exploit their contacts before the whiff of defeat spoils their chances?
Daily Telegraph bloggers have got the message. One writes: "The rats, with inherent intuition, are deserting the sinking ship."
The coalition is holding together – for now. David Cameron and Nick Clegg got the majority their wanted for last night's Second Reading of the welfare bill, with only four dissenters on the Lib Dem side voting with Labour against the real-terms cuts in benefits. Even Simon Hughes, Nick Clegg's deputy, normally not slow to criticise unpopular coalition policies, supported the measure.
But the Tory-Lib Dem partnership remains hugely fragile. As the Daily Telegraph reports today, the coalition is now expected to publish an 'audit' of all the targets the coalition has failed to hit since May 2010 – including pledges about pensions, road building and criminal justice.
The audit was supposed to be released on Monday along with the mid-term review presented by Cameron and Clegg, but was held back for fear that negative coverage would spoil the two men's big day in the spotlight.
The coalition's claims that 'we are all in it together' will not be enhanced by the spectacle of Chancellor George Osborne laughing his head off at the end of the debate to cut benefits for thousands of people who are striving to do better by taking low-paid jobs.
Nor will it be helped if the trickle of ministerial departures turns into a rush of ex-ministers wanting to get their noses in the trough before the general election.
A good explanation of why they'd want to get out now comes from another Tory peer, Lord Ashcroft, who writes on his grassroots website, ConservativeHome, that the bookies are betting on David Cameron losing in 2015.
"The odds on a Conservative majority look comparatively remote," says Ashcroft. "Paddy Power will give you 11/4, and Ladbrokes a tasty 3/1 on such a result. As far as the Liberal Democrats are concerned, Ladbrokes expect their most likely haul to be between 21 and 40 seats – and the odds show they believe Nick Clegg's party is more likely to end up with fewer than 20 than to win more than 40.
"With the polls as they are, and political prospects as they currently seem, it would be hard to argue that the bookmakers are seriously misguided," said Ashcroft.
As the two leaping lords worked out for themselves, the Tories could win the 2015 general election – but don't bet on it.