At a time when the Conservatives are increasingly divided over the question of whether the coalition should fight the next election together, the findings of the latest ICM/Guardian poll are worth noting.
The poll shows that just 43 per cent of voters now think a coalition government was the right decision for Britain, down from 59 per cent in May. In many ways this simply reflects the unpopularity of the government, but it also suggests an intriguing possibility: could the experience of the cuts prejudice voters against the coalition government itself? If so, there may be sound psephological reasons for the Tories and the Lib Dems to avoid an electoral pact.
The revelations that the International Development Secretary, Andrew Mitchell, urged the Conservatives to do everything possible to help the Lib Dems win the Oldham and Saddleworth East by-election on 13 January, and that another senior cabinet minister has called for “coalition candidates” at the next general election, show how seriously the possibility of a pact is being taken.
My own view is that the Lib Dem left (the coalition’s weakest link) and the Conservative right will make a formal pact impossible, but it’s not hard to imagine the Tories concentrating resources on Labour seats and giving the Lib Dems, in effect, a free run in some areas.
Intriguingly, the poll shows that more Tory voters (76 per cent) than Lib Dems (47 per cent) believe that the coalition was the right decision, a reflection of the damage that the coalition has so far inflicted on Nick Clegg’s party. If the Lib Dems are to turn this situation around, they badly need some big wins, starting in Oldham.