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25 February 2014

If Cameron rules out coalition, he rules out being in government after 2015

Any minority government would soon collapse as there would be no impetus for the Lib Dems to support the Queen's Speech.

By Mark Thompson

Interesting news overnight from the Telegraph that David Cameron wants to rule out any coalition involving the Conservatives after the 2015 general election.

It would be very strange if the Tories did include such a clause in their manifesto. The average polling in recent months has them on 33 per cent with Labour on an average of 38 per cent. Even if these positions were reversed, the Tories would still likely fall short of a majority because of the quirky way blue and red seats are distributed under our current electoral system. And very few people think the Tories will go up by 5 per cent and Labour will fall by 5 per cent in the run-up to 2015. Far, far more likely is something that falls short of that.

So the absolute best the Conservatives can realistically hope for is that they will be the largest party in a hung parliament. If this good fortune were to befall them, and they then refused to form a coalition, the government would collapse shortly afterwards as there would be no impetus for the Lib Dems to support a Queen’s Speech from a minority administration. Unable to command a majority for his programme, Cameron would have no choice but to seek a dissolution.

Were this to happen, it is even less likely that the Tories would gain seats in the subsequent election. The public will have just been through a general election and given its verdict. The Conservative Party will have stubbornly refused to compromise and the electorate does not like to be asked twice in quick succession. The party that will be seen to have caused the problem leading to this second election will be the one refusing any deal. In other words, Cameron would be effectively ruling the Tories out of being in government after 2015. Given how well he played the original hung parliament game, it seems unlikely he would paint himself into a corner like this.

Another reason why it seems unlikely is that refusing to do any deal after 2015 goes so strongly against what he told us in the early part of this government about “coming together in the national interest”. Cameron would find it extremely difficult to reconcile the two positions and could easily be painted as unprincipled and being driven by the most extreme elements of the right of his party.

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This story would seem bizarre in many other countries where coalitions are the norm. The idea that a party should dig its heels in and insist on all the power (or effectively none of it) would be very alien indeed. The only reason this seems even vaguely plausible in this country is because of the history of majority governments we have seen in recent decades (almost always on the back of a minority of votes, incidentally) under first-past-the-post. But with the breakdown in traditional voting patterns and more and more people willing to vote for smaller parties, many psephologists believe the days of regular majority governments are gone.

Cameron would be far better off reconciling his party to this new reality, rather than stamping his feet and insisting he wants all the power for himself.

It simply isn’t going to happen.

Mark Thompson (@MarkReckons) is a political blogger and commentator who edits the award-winning Mark Thompson’s Blog.

He is also co-host of the House of Commons podcast.

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