Fraser Nelson

An election victory is only the start of the battle for Cameron

An election victory is only the start of the battle for Cameron
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The News of the World has done its poll of marginal seats today (story here, Anthony Wells here) – a hugely expensive operation, but worthwhile because British elections are decided in marginal seats. National polling, while interesting, can be a misleading indicator of outcome.

The result is that the Tories have a safe lead of 13 points (take a bow, Lord Ashcroft), but would still end up with just a 38-seat majority due to Westminster’s unfair voting system. As I say in my column, this is nowhere near a ‘safe’ majority, because it means the government can be defeated by 20 rebels.

Anyone who thinks that the Tories are more loyal than Labour and would not rebel should think back to John Major’s government: which was, in retrospect, a government of immense achievement in economic recovery and public sector reform. But it looked like a shambles because of the constant war with rebels.

Might it happen under Cameron? I do believe so. I have spoken to a few Tory MPs, in recent weeks, who are incensed about George Osborne’s decision to protect the NHS budget (a move described by the chief executive of the National Audit Office as “insane”) and to increase the DFID budget by 50 per cent – while imposing harsh cuts on the rest, including military and policing. One senior Tory told me that people are staying quiet now, but there will be an explosion after the election as the war for Osborne’s budget begins.

Will these threats come to anything? Many Tory MPs do see their fundamental duty to the constituents; a great many care very deeply about the armed forces and would not keep quiet if £5bn were taken away from the £35bn MoD budget and slapped straight on to DfID (which is how things are looking now). And even if £500m of DfID money is used for defence purposes, all this does is take the edge off it. Having de facto £4.5bn taken from the MoD and given to DFID is hardly going to assuage the many Tories who argue that defence cuts should not be attempted for as long as this country is at war.

And, no, procurement will not take the pain: contracts are designed so this never happens. Defence cuts will mean shoddier accommodation for military families. It’s a price that - I would argue - a Conservative government should never pay simply so it can try to look good in a wristband.

But what would Tory backbenchers do? To vote against a budget really is the nuclear button, and I really doubt things will come to that. I also doubt that Cameron will rely on Nick “no more than 30” Clegg (so called, now, because on the NOTW poll he would have no more than 30 Lib Dem MPs after the election). My point: that Cameron’s battle will just be starting on election day.