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Minority government hint is boost for backbenchers – if they believe it

25 February 2014

That David Cameron is reportedly considering committing to minority government above coalition is a strong message to his backbenchers that he’s not preparing to hop back into bed with Nick Clegg and co in 2015. They have been growing a little feverish about the idea, and ministers have made it known in the party that they would vote against a coalition in any secret ballot on a new deal (provided, of course, that there is a secret ballot).

This is good for party relations in the straightforward sense that Cameron is signalling to his backbenchers that he doesn’t like the Lib Dems as much as they suspect he does, but also because he is to a certain extent signalling that he is prepared to do business with his own MPs, even though that will not be a walk in the park. Minority government nowadays will be difficult because a PM can no longer rely on the unflinching support of his backbenchers. It is cool and respectable to be a rebel, as you are voting for your constituents, rather than your career. This means Cameron would have to do as many deals with his own MPs to get legislation through as he would with other parties. But by signalling that he’s keen to do that deal, Cameron is at least saying he’d rather do deals with the devil he knows.

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But this also shows up the Liberal Democrats. The Telegraph reports that the Conservatives have become increasingly frustrated with Nick Clegg’s party as it has moved into full-throttle differentiation. Perhaps it was inevitable that the two parties would bicker more as the years went on, but the Coalition has reached a dreadfully boring stalemate. It is a strange strategy for the Lib Dems, as their strategy all along has been to show voters that coalitions do work and make politics better, and yet the Conservatives seem to be accusing them of making government so boring and fractious that the instability of a minority government looks more appealing.

The question, though, is whether backbench MPs believe these hints from the PM about a desire to go it alone, and whether they are disheartened that he’s even thinking about the chances of the Conservatives not securing a majority. He’s not wrong to do that – many true blue ministers are optimistic about the party’s achievements but pessimistic about the electoral arithmetic in 2015. But there are enough malcontents in the party who will try to see it quite differently, especially those who are licking their lips at the thought of trouble after May’s European elections.

P.S. Naturally, No10 is pouring cold water on this (while not explicitly denying it), saying: ‘We’re going all out for victory – you won’t find the PM saying anything else. Our manifesto is about policy. Between now and the election we’re not going to talk about any outcome other than victory.’

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Show comments
  • berosos_bubos

    By preventing the Conservative part of the coalition from doing anything it will also prevent them from winning a majority in 2015. This must be a deliberate strategy.

  • Smithersjones2013

    On the issue of a vote of no confidence forcing a second election in short order there is a reasonable belief that the electorate having elected a new government would be less than pleased if the ‘losing’ parties then forced another election because they could not find an accommodation with the new government. Basically, it would mean for a period the parties would be playing chicken with all the uncertainty that goes with it. However, that is probably far far better than the current worthless zombie government that the Libdems have expressed so much love for and have now imposed on the electorate for political gain……

  • Smithersjones2013

    Well surprise surprise Cameron was right after all (recalling some of the democracy speeches he gave before the last election). Coalition does not work.

    P.S. Naturally, No10 is pouring cold water on this
    (while not explicitly denying it), saying: ‘We’re going all out for
    victory – you won’t find the PM saying anything else. Our manifesto is
    about policy. Between now and the election we’re not going to talk about
    any outcome other than victory.’

    Which is all very well but unless the Tories are absolutely crystal clear on what terms they intend to go into government how do the electorate know that they won’t screw us over as they did in 2010 by fornicating with the Libdems? Parties MUST be open and honest about their intentions in their manifestos else all they are doing is further soiling the reputation of Westminster and undermining our democratic system and frankly i think the electorate has had just about enough of these venal establishment parties abusing our democracy!

  • David J Noble

    a minority government won’t last and will not be able to pass legislation. Pointless starting to tear up our coalition (which has a conservative majority) has done a very good job steering our country during these hard times. With the UK political landscape potentially being re-written due to UKIPs emergence , as a Conservative I would much prefer to do a deal with the LibDems again . Who knows there may be three parties sitting at a table.

  • wrinkledweasel

    “whether backbench MPs believe these hints”

    Well, if Dave can give a cast iron guarantee, then yes.

    Oh. Wait a minute…

  • Monkey_Bach

    Good move on Cameron’s part from the Liberal Democrat point of view because it will make the Lib Dems more electable, since there will be no danger of them being soiled by contact and cooperation with their former coalition partner. Another winner from an electoral point of view for the Conservatives would be to make Peter Bone MP a significant member of the cabinet ASAP. You know it makes sense!

    • swatnan

      It’ll be known as the ‘Hanging Parliament’ in years to come., although the Guillotine is a more efficent way of dealing with terrorists and killers.

      • Monkey_Bach

        I believe that decapitation has earmarked by George Osborne as a potential sanction for benefit claimants who miss an appointment at their local Jobcentre Plus. Hanging is too good for such people!

        • saffrin

          Vote UKIP and those benefit claimants would have a job.

          • Monkey_Bach

            I hope, like me, you’re trying to be satirical.

            • saffrin

              I’d say the same thing to Labour’s unemployed supporters. It stands to reason, what with so many immigrants and EU migrants flooding into the country, Labour’s unemployed, especially the young, don’t stand a chance of ever getting a job if they continue to support Labour’s ideals and/or policies.

              • Monkey_Bach

                As I say I would STRONGLY urge every right-thinking former Conservative voter to transfer their allegiance to UKIP. I mean that most sincerely. I really, really do.

                • saffrin

                  I’m sure you do. I’m pointing out Labour voters are flocking to UKIP too.

  • alabenn

    Cameron knows that if the Conservatives are in a majority it will be a more sceptical party, both on Europe and his airy fairy socialism lite, he will have no chance of cohabitating with any other party.
    That he can now see this should at least put him on the road to reality, whether that road leads anywhere yet we will have to wait and see.

  • Rockin Ron

    I recall Cameron, Clegg and Brown said they were not interested in forming a coalition in the run up to the 2010 General Election. Has to be a given that every party leader would like to lead a majority administration. For Cameron to underline this obvious point shows his desperation.

  • Normandee

    The Social Democrats now aware that the next election could be lost, instead of doing something about the principal cause, ie David(my word is my bond)Cameron are just running around in circles holding their heads “woe is me woe is me” all transfixed by the thought of their gravy train disappearing, but too scared to consider alternative forms of transport.

    • Wessex Man

      Vote UKip, save the country!

      • Monkey_Bach

        Save the Cheerleader save the world!

  • James Strong

    I don’t think that ministers, or any other representatives, should be able to hide the way they vote by using a secret ballot.
    That makes it impossible for those that they claim to represent know how effective that representation is.
    Ministers, and MPs, who would vote against a coalition in a secret ballot but will not publicly state their unwillingness to enter a further coalition should have a special type of scorn and derision, even stronger than the scorn and deision that nearly all politicians deserve.

  • William Haworth

    Our politics are boring because the great majority of decisions are made elsewhere. If we’re down to bickering about smoking in cars, then Parliament has lost its reason to exist.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      Well, government seems to have solved the terrible threat of in-car smoking, by flooding out the roads. Job done.

  • Kitty MLB

    Oh, God ! that picture.
    Must we forever be tormented with the image of Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum
    standing in the rose garden, all pink faced and devoted,
    spouting their devotions as well gallons of atrabilious bile all over
    the lush Downing Street lawn. That was before they landed on a
    very English rose like a pair of butterflies and Lorenz’s theory of chaos
    was the unfortunate but expected result for the country.

    • Normandee

      Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dee, the European twins !

    • Ron Todd

      True but think of the nightmare if that had been a picture of Gleggy boy and Mr Ed

      • the viceroy’s gin

        …what difference? The 3-cheeked backside is the same, in any combination.

  • CharlietheChump

    Will it be cast in iron???

  • @PhilKean1

    I think Clegg is genuinely disillusioned and upset with David Cameron –

    – and I am guessing it is because Cameron is considering the adoption of proposals which might give some voters, of the naive and gullible variety, the idea that he intends to end the assumption that Britain is locked onto the path of ever-closer EU integration.

    For let us dispel the ridiculous assertion that the Liberals have the UK economy and the national interest as their priority, or are even competent and knowledgeable enough to claim to be a party of responsible fiscal management.

    And judging by this – – I can only assume that the rift between them is beyond the repairing abilities of even a serial appeaser such as Cameron.

    All of which should lead us to ask these important questions …….

    (1) – At the Coalition negotiations – (the behind closed doors ones ) – just what assurances did David Cameron give Nick Clegg about keeping Britain firmly on the path of Federal-EU integration?

    For whatever assurances were given, it was enough to persuade a man so dedicated to the EU’s best interests, he is prepared to make bogus referendum promises and then immediately renege on them at the first sign that they may be tested.

    (2) – How on earth did David Cameron believe for one minute that he would be able to pursue such a pro-integration course, unchallenged both from within his party and from concerned voters, and with no adverse consequences for Britain’s vital national interest?

    And the answers always lead back to just one inescapable conclusion : it would be foolish for any real Conservative to trust a single word that comes out of David Cameron’s mouth.

    And I suggest to all those pundits making guesses and giving their advice about the 2015 election, that it will be the mistake of the 21st century to make the automatic assumption that real Conservatives are just going to fall back into line.


    • the viceroy’s gin

      …well remember, the Speccie kids have to mouth as they’re told, but this is all just panto. 14.25 months from how, Dave and Nick will be yesterday’s news, and this is just the stage show in the interim.

  • Shinsei1967

    How does ruling out coalitions, and therefore inevitably fueling more frequent elections as minority governments get defeated and head to the polls, fit with the 2011 Fixed-term Parliament Act which requires general elections to be held on a fixed five year schedule ?

    • Hello

      Why should it have to? That was only passed for this parliament.

      • Shinsei1967
        • Hello


          • Shinsei1967

            I’m no expert but I assume if the government is defeated in vote of confidence then that triggers an early election, despite 5 year fixed terms. But I don’t know, hence my question.

            • Hello

              Cameron isn’t actually going to commit to this anyway, it would be madness.

            • Smithersjones2013

              The exception to the five year fixed term rule is a vote of no confidence and the party of government accepting that they can no longer govern,

    • Noa

      This is the nub of the matter. Like vampires dead governments now live on, however spent their purpose, achieving nothing whilst their feeding their blood habit.

      • Smithersjones2013

        Vampires are intelligent conscious creatures. This government is now more akin to a zombie government staggering towards its inevitable end arbitrarily savaging our society as and when its gets the mind to..

        • Noa

          Not so much a coalition then, more of a zompire, or would it bea vampie?

  • Frank

    Wonderful that Dave thinks that his opinions will matter post 2015.

    • Michael Mckeown

      Like him or not his government has turned the economy around.

      • Noa

        The talented Mr Osborne has more the doubled the National Debt he inherited from the financially incontinent Gordon Brown, from three quarters to nearly one and a half trillion Pounds. And done little to curb the overhanging colostomy bag of liabilities waiting to burst of future generations.

        • Michael Mckeown

          That is a simplistic way of looking at things, quantitative easing has pushed up the national debt that means we owe ourselves so in real terms the debt is down as is the deficit so yes, really, the Conservatives have turned the economy around and that can only be a good thing.

          • Noa

            Yes, debt is simplistic. If you borrow money you have to repay it with interest. Like a high street borrower you attempt to make a virtue out of borrowing less.
            Of course our politicians have one advantage over the typical Wonga borrowing chav, they can devalue the currency by printing more, through quantative easing and rob savers by paying derisory interest rates, both of which they have done.
            Mr Osborne isn’t fixing the problem, he’s simply posting the deluge in order to remain in office.

            • Michael Mckeown

              If you issue bonds then buy the bonds you issue yourself then you dont owe yourself money, thats quantitative easing.

              The defacite is down 1/3 and almost all government departments have their ‘black holes’ in accounts fixed along with real tangible growth in the economy so George clearly is doing something right.

              • Noa

                So we are agreed, the government is borrowing less and adding to the debt mountain at a slightly slower rate.
                And if you consider that there is any real, sustainable growth in the UK’s anaemic economy then you probably also believe in fairies.

                • Michael Mckeown

                  There is growth right across the UK in all sectors so that must mean, using your rational, that there is fairies.

                  The government is borrowing less, agreed, but as for the debt you have to step back and look at that slightly differently as many many billions of it is from us buying our own bonds therefore it’s not debt per se as we could, and likely will, write it off when the stimulus is no longer deemed necessary and it is because we can write it off that makes that part of the debt considerably different to the rest of it.

                  Osbourne had a plan and stuck with it so he gets respect for doing that and for the good overall long term outcome, could it have been done differently over a longer time frame and without hitting people as hard then yes perhaps but its done now.

                • Noa

                  Ouch … ‘are fairies’ please!
                  Do you think illiteracy, grammatical or financial, underpins your argument?

                  As to Mr Osborne’s ‘plan’, it was and is a ‘no brainer’, a minimum effort spending reduction that was indistinguishable from Darling’s 2010 proposal, indeed probably conceived by the same Treasury wonks.

                • Michael Mckeown

                  OK, I get it now, you are a Labour supporter in denial about the relative good standing of the economy.

                  I suspect it will pain you to hear, again, that Labour are keeping the Conservatives fiscal policy for the first term in office, if they get in office, and that is the ultimate endorsement of Osbourne.

                • Noa

                  For heavens sake! it’s George Osborne, not Osbourne, please!
                  How can you sing his praises if you don’t know who he is?
                  And I’m no more a Labour supporter than David cameron is a conservative.
                  And minor, artificially created variations to the balance of payments deficit are political hype and random noise which do nothing to address the structural deficiencies of the UK’s economy.
                  Now, can you remember when there was a UK balance of payments surplus? Was it in your lifetime?

                • Michael Mckeown

                  This month.

                • Noa

                  Fairy dust.

                • Michael Mckeown

                  It happens with almost all accounts from January, February is never a good month to go on about a non surplus.

                • Noa

                  You didn’t read the link. The deficit was £2.9 billion on January.

                • Michael Mckeown

                  UK government finances show £4.7bn surplus in January:


                • Noa

                  Which also says:-
                  “The OBR has forecast government borrowing to be £111.2bn for the current financial year.”

                • Michael Mckeown

                  Indeed but the last time the country was in surplice was still only last month.

                • Noa

                  Self deception remains deception.
                  A surplice… is a liturgical vestment of the Western Christian Church. Wheras a surplus is an excess of income against expenditure.

                • Michael Mckeown

                  You asked when the last time a surplus occurred and implied it was likely not in my life time when in fact it was only a few days ago. I get the felling you actually want things to be bad.

                • Noa

                  Sigh, you can deceive yourself all you want to.
                  The forecast annual deficit is over £110 billion. There is no surplus or improvement.

        • Nicholas chuzzlewit

          Fair comment but the rise in total debt is due firstly to QE whereby we effectively issue bonds and simultaneously ‘print’ money to buy them from ourselves and second, the economy is recovering from a contraction of 7.4% and a structural deficit of circa £160 billion (thanks Gordon). The only way to avoid an increase in borrowing would be to cut public expenditure with a degree of savagery that would probably not be tolerated by aopulation whose sense of entitlement is set in stone. The alternative was to make minor cuts, borrow more and hope the economy would pick up. Whilst are recovery is imperfect it is certainly better than anywhere else on the West. The structural deficit has reduced by a third and employment is rising. Imperfect but certainly better than allowing lunatics like Balls or Miliband to get their hands on the economy.

          • the viceroy’s gin

            It’s the same things the Millipedes were going to do. Boy George merely duplicated Darling’s budget, as would be expected from any of the LibLabCon clones.

            Dave’s a dead man walking, not least because he spends his days blaming the other guys, his clones, who he agrees with in any event.

        • saffrin

          Look up the meaning of deficit Noa?

  • Mike Smithson

    Unless the numbers are very tight Cameron would be hard-pressed to continue in power with a minority government. There’ll be no “supply & confidence” deal from the LDs and the post-election Queen’s Speech vote would almost certainly be lost.

    • FF42

      The previous SNP government in Scotland was a minority one It’s hard work: you have to form a different coalition for every policy. It will be more difficult in Westminster due to its more confrontational politics. It’s difficult to think of any policies that the Conservatives could strike with Labour that didn’t involve the Lib Dems.

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