Cameron plans his own back-room deal with the DUP
But Ken Clarke warns: “It’s not the way to run a modern sophisticated society.”
David Cameron is fond of denouncing the "secret back-room deals" that he claims electoral reform would encourage. But, if we're to believe today's Telegraph, a back-room deal with the right-wing Democratic Unionist Party is exactly what Cameron is planning in the event of a hung parliament.
The Conservatives have already established a formal alliance with the Ulster Unionist Party, but after a recent opinion poll in the Belfast Telegraph suggested that the party will struggle to win more than a couple of seats (it has no MPs at present) the Tories have been forced to look elsewhere.
The DUP, currently the fourth largest party in the Commons, could be expected to deliver an extra nine or ten seats for Cameron. But there will be a price and the DUP is demanding that, at the very least, the Tories cancel £200m worth of cuts to Northern Ireland's public sector.
One Tory who, with typical frankness, has already expressed his dismay at the possibility of such a back-room deal is Ken Clarke. In an interview with politics.co.uk he said: "What we're plainly headed for would be a great deal of squabbling, with small parties given disproportionate influence, trying to manoeuvre advantages for themselves before they allow a Conservative government to get on with the job."
If I have to sit and talk to three or four other groups . . . in the end you can always do a deal with an Ulsterman, but it's not the way to run a modern sophisticated society [our emphasis].
That Cameron may finally be reduced to doing just that again exposes the falseness of the Tory leader's claim that the first-past-the-post system guarantees "strong government".
But more seriously, if Cameron gets into bed with the DUP as well as the Ulster Unionists, how can he ever hope to act as an honest broker in Northern Ireland?