As I wrote this morning, the main thing binding the Lib Dems to the Tories is the promise of a referendum on electoral reform. Should the referendum (expected in spring 2011) be won, the coalition has a decent chance of making it to 2015. But should it be lost, many figures in both parties will expect the coalition to fall apart.
We would then face the unusual prospect of two parties that have shared power for five years attempting to campaign against each other. Those who point out that the same thing happens across Europe are ignoring that, in most cases, the main parties indicate their coalition partner of choice in advance of the election.
Under the Alternative Vote, a system that encourages second-preference votes, the possibility of a Tory-Lib Dem pact will seem irresistible to some.
It is precisely this possibility that is floated by Daniel Finkelstein on his blog today. Citing the example of Australia, he suggests that such an arrangement would benefit the Lib Dems rather than Labour:
In Australia, says my friend, 90 per cent of voters follow the preference card issued by their party of choice. In other words, they order their preferences following the guidance of their first-preference choice.
The coalition partners could eschew a formal pact, but agree to guide their voters to give each other second preferences. Thus they would run against each other but still in tandem.
Cameron’s recent assertion that he views the coalition not as an alliance of convenience, but as a vehicle to realign British politics, suggests he may be open to this option.
The conservative case for AV has been made by few outside of Phillip Blond’s ResPublica, but I’d expect this to change as the referendum draws closer. Others, like Boris Johnson, who recently declined an invitation to join Lynton Crosby’s anti-AV campaign, have become agnostic about reform.
By 2015, if the economy is reviving and Clegg’s programme of constitutional reform has been completed, there will be many who will not want the marriage to end there.