Alex Massie

The Liberal Unionist Club

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Welcome to the Liberal Unionist club, Fraser! It won't surprise regular readers that I think your latest post is spot-on. While we're taking names, let's also add John Rentoul to the list. His Independent on Sunday column this week concludes:

This is where I think that Cameron is misunderstood. It seems to be generally assumed that, for him, the coalition is flag of convenience, hoisted to help navigate out of the tricky situation produced by the election.

I think not. I think he sees it as a chance for a permanent change in favour of liberal conservatism, a label he has always been happy to apply to himself. The coalition is not merely an expedient to get him through to the next election, when the Tories can try again to win outright. Even if they did, he would, I suspect, want to keep the Liberal Democrats on board. He knows how the alternative vote works in Australia, the only country where it is used. There, the Liberal-National coalition is, in effect, a single party in a two-party system. One that has been in power for 40 of the 65 years since the Second World War.

Good point John Rentoul! The first prize is a second term when, everyone hopes, there may once again be some money. The pain of cutting and slashing and the government's likely unpopularity is all very noble but plainly it's not enough either. The second, bigger prize, is recasting British politics and putting Labour on the back-foot.

This is necessarily a high-stakes game. The risk of alienating the Tory right still further is real. Nevertheless, all governments are coalitions of one sort or another and it's perfectly possible that Cameron is happier parlaying with the Liberal Democrats than with his own party's right. Indeed, I think Rentoul is correct: Cameron would want to preserve the coalition with the Lib Dems even if the Tories were somehow to win a majority in 2015.

The reason? The Tories have the advantage at the moment but they still need to press it home. That means one of their primary political concerns must be keeping the Lib Dems out of Labour hands after the next election. So what do the Lib Dems get out of this? Well, the chance to be a British version of Germany's Free Democrats. That's not a bad prize and one that Nick Clegg might be happy with.

It offers both parties the prospect of spending more time in power than on the opposition benches. That alone makes the argument tempting. And that makes the idea of Tories campaigning for a change to the voting system tempting too not least since, on current trends, FPTP is likely to weaken, not strengthen, the two big parties whose combined share of the vote continues to decline.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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