Quite an admission from David Cameron on Radio 2 this afternoon. For the first time, Cameron said that the Tories would be tougher on immigration and welfare if they weren’t in coalition with the Lib Dems.
He told Steve Wright: “I think we’ve all had to make compromises. I mean if I was running a Conservative-only government I think we would be making further steps on things like immigration control or making sure that our welfare reforms were absolutely making sure that if you’re not prepared to work you can’t go on welfare. I think we’d be tougher but we make compromises.”
The reason this is significant is that, until recently, Cameron gave the impression that he was happier sharing power with the Lib Dems than he would be governing alone.
The foreword to the coalition agreement, for instance, declared:
We have found that a combination of our parties’ best ideas and attitudes has produced a programme for government that is more radical and comprehensive than our individual manifestos.
But Cameron is now frustrated by the concessions that the yellow team have wrung out of him. On welfare, for instance, the government abandoned its plan to cut housing benefit by 10 per cent to anyone unemployed for more than a year after a last-minute intervention by Nick Clegg. On immigration, under pressure from Vince Cable, Theresa May agreed to cap the number of skilled migrants at around 43,000 – just 13 per cent lower than the 2009 figure – making it harder for Cameron to meet his pledge to reduce net migration to “tens of thousands per year”.
It’s likely that Clegg will be delighted by Cameron’s words – they reinforce his claim that the Lib Dems have had a moderating influence on the Tories. But Conservative backbenchers will also be reassured by Cameron’s comments. It now appears that, contrary to previous speculation, he will do everything he can to win a Tory majority in 2015.