Cameron takes huge gamble by ruling out another coalition
PM is trying to placate his angry right-wing – and also tempt voters who prefer single-party government
DAVID CAMERON'S decision to rule out a second coalition with the Liberal Democrats, as reported in today's Daily Telegraph, is being seen as a direct appeal to his right-wing backbenchers to stop rocking the boat before the 2015 general election.
Cameron has had a series of bust-ups - mainly over his refusal to call an early in-out referendum on the EU - with the Tory 'ultras' who would rather lose power than do another deal with the soggy Lib Dems.
As Ben Brogan, the Telegraph's chief political commentator, blogged overnight, Cameron is "well aware of the danger he would face from his own party if he were to try once again to form a pact with Mr Clegg: one ally says he would be thrown overboard if he did."
Cameron has let his thinking be known now because he's expecting further aggro from the 'ultras' after this May's European Parliament elections, when Nigel Farage's Ukip party is expected to beat the Tories into third place. Nicholas Watt of The Guardian believes Cameron wants to "fireproof himself" against a "hardcore" of backbench opponents who could use a Ukip victory in Europe to overthrow him.
Then there's the great British public. Internal polling by the Tories apparently shows that voters are increasingly disenchanted with the idea of coalition and want the clearer sense of direction offered by single-party government.
Says Brogan: "I haven’t seen the detail [of the polling], but I am struck by the forcefulness with which those closest to Mr Cameron now believe that the prospect of another coalition is an electoral liability, while the offer of single-party administration is a vote-winner."
Cameron’s gamble – and he’s betting the ranch on this – is that he can win over the Tory 'ultras' and stop the leak of votes to Ukip if he promises to return to True Blue Tory principles.
It could mean running the country from May 2015 with a minority Tory government if he has the largest party but fails to reach the magic threshold of 326 MPs at the general election.
Cameron is presumably hoping that he can pull off the same trick that Harold Wilson did in 1974. Wilson's Labour party won the most seats at the general election in February that year but not a majority. When Edward Heath's Tories failed to negotiate a coalition with the Liberals, Wilson took power with a minority government. In October, he called a second election at which he was able to sneak an ill-important three-seat majority.
However, running the country on a tiny majority is not easy and Cameron knows that very well, having been close to the John Major government in the 1990s. The party in power is quickly run ragged: every vote in the House is crucial, the risk of being brought down if you can't get the Budget through is a constant shadow.
Cameron's gamble, according to Mike Smithson's Political Betting website, is that by committing the Tories in their manifesto to no second coalition with any minority party – and that means Ukip, should they win any seats, as well as the Lib Dems – he is giving voters a clear choice: either they want a Conservative government or a Labour one, the latter possibly in cooperation with the Lib Dems.
But it could backfire, says Smithson. "The move could be presented as being petulant or silly – the Tories being the party that regards no loaf as being better than half a loaf."
It could throw a lifeline to the drowning Nick Clegg. The Lib Dems are sinking desperately low in the opinion polls because so many in the party loath propping up Cameron’s Tories. The guarantee of no further coalition deal could make it easier for Clegg to hold on to left-leaning Liberal Democrats currently tempted to vote Labour in May 2015.
As for Ed Miliband, he will continue to target an all-out Labour majority, but in the knowledge that a coalition with the Lib Dems, who were already making overtures before today's Telegraph scoop, is there as a back-up.