How many more Lib Dem 'deals' before Tories give up on coalition?
Behind the scenes in Birmingham, more and more Tories say they'd rather run a minority government
GEORGE OSBORNE will announce a deal with the Liberal Democrats to cut £10bn from welfare today, but senior Tories at the Tory Party conference in Birmingham are privately planning to ditch the Lib Dems for a minority Conservative government after the next election.
The Chancellor will use his keynote speech today to announce he has persuaded Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, to hold his nose and let the cuts in benefits through in return for a commitment to hit the wealthy with more taxes in his next Budget. He has also squared the cuts with Iain Duncan Smith, the welfare secretary, who has been trying to protect his budget.
But senior Tory ministers are growing tired of having to placate their Lib Dem coalition partners.
Both Osborne and David Cameron killed off Clegg's plan for a mansion tax that would hit middle-class Tory voters who have houses worth more than £2 million but modest incomes.
Instead, Cameron hinted on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show there will be higher taxes on the purchase of property by the very rich, particularly foreigners, who are fuelling a boom for mega-million-pound homes in central London. "We are going to take further action to make sure that the richest people in our country pay a fair share towards deficit reduction," said Cameron.
The deal over welfare will avoid a crisis leading to a total breakdown in the coalition before the election, and give Osborne the chance to claim he is sticking to Plan A for deficit reduction to boost the economy. The theme of Osborne's and Cameron's speeches will be that they are looking after the interests of the 'striving' voters who want to get on by working hard
But senior Tory figures in the coalition are fed up to the back teeth with having to accommodate the Liberal Democrats with talk of higher taxes, when Tory hearts are in lower taxes and lower spending.
Some are so disenchanted with the coalition that around the bars and the fringe meetings at Birmingham, the real story behind the scenes is the refusal to repeat the coalition with the Lib Dems if there is another hung Parliament – which seems likely - after the next election.
One minister who was promoted by Cameron a month ago told the Mole: "We would be better off running a minority government. The Lib Dems are going to get slaughtered at the next election. Everyone knows that. They could be reduced to 20 seats. That would give us the option of running a minority government with the minor parties like the Ulster Unionists."
The Lib Dems currently have 57 seats, and the Democratic Ulster Unionists just eight seats. So minority government doesn't look like a realistic prospect.
But a collapse in Lib Dem seats could alter the Commons arithmetic to allow Cameron to push through with DUP support as Labour did with the support of minor parties after the Lib Lab pact collapsed under James Callaghan in the late 1970s.
The only problem with running a minority government is that it is highly unstable, and exhausting. No wonder many Tory MPs are turning to Boris Johnson as a future leader who could transform Tory prospects with his popularity. The blond bombshell arrives in Birmingham tonight.
Jesse Norman, the Tory MP who led the rebellion against the Lib Dem demands for Lords reform, says in The Independent today Tories are "crying out for leadership" and a return to "sunshine". Cameron said when he won the leadership: "Let sunshine win the day." Many Tories are now saying it may be up to Boris to supply it.