Wednesday 14 January 2015

Could Conservatives be learning to love coalitions?

As you will doubtless become aware within mere sentences into this blog post, I'm not generally a political blogger. I'm more at home writing fiction or tweeting a strange mixture of silliness and current affairs.

Part of the reason I don't blog politically often is that I tend not to feel overly informed. I do my best, but I assume that I don't understand it all very much.

Which is why anything that follows this can be assumed to be phrased in the sense of a question. It's something of a 'what if'. I'm very possibly wrong about this, but it's something that's been gnawing away at me recently.

David Cameron's stance on the Green Party taking part in the leadership debates is one that brings up conflicted emotions in me. I want to see the Green Party in the debates, but I don't trust that Cameron's doing it purely on principle.

I've begun to think it's possible that the Conservative Party has embraced coalition politics. Because they have a lot to gain out of it. In fact, they make it possible that it could make it more difficult to get them out. We could be stuck with Cameron for a long time.

What if the lesson the tories learned from the last elections wasn't "we need to do better to win the election", but was actually "we don't need to win the election to be in power"?

What have the Conservatives actually lost out on by being in a coalition? It hasn't felt like the Liberal Democrats have stopped them doing much. It hasn't just felt like a Conservative government, it's felt like a very Conservative government.

Part of it could be that the Conservatives are simply very good at negotiating in a way that makes it look like they're losing out while actually giving them what they want. The Lib Dems have talked about reigning them in, but what if they've been in arguments that started with an inflated point? It's classic negotiation. "Oh, that? It's worth £80... oh okay, say £50". You might feel like you've got a bargain, but a lot of the time, the person selling has still got the money they wanted. And they get to complain about how hard-done by they are.

Basically, the Lib Dems have come out of this with no real achievements - at best, they've managed to ward off even worse conservative excess, but don't have much concrete to point towards either. And they've made themselves basically unelectable while doing it (and also failed to have Nick Clegg fall on his sword, taking the heat away from the rest of the party, which seems like such an obvious move to me, that I can only assume that they think they've done a good job).

Meanwhile, the Conservatives may have suffered some dented pride in the way they took office, but they've still achieved a lot of what they set out to.

We assume that they want to outright win, because of pride as much as anything else. But they've been handed a quiet, well-behaved partner that will take as many bullets as they can put them in front of. Which is oddd behaviour.

Obviously, a lot of these conversations and negotiations have happened behind closed doors. But the fixed term parliament was all about stability, which was the big message at the start of this coalition. The other one was oopportunity - for the first time, the Lib Dems had the opportunity to get some real experience in government and have their politicians front and centre in places. A little bit of ego and a little bit of inexperience. That's not a good negotiating position.

But the conservatives don't need experience. They have plenty of that. So they're already in a dominant position, especially with just the numbers. So we've had an austerity program that's ended up feeling more like social engineering.

Sure, they want to outright win the election for pride reasons, but if they do that, they lose the human shield the other party provides.

Effectively, the conservatives may not have had a wonderful experience, but they've not had a bad one either. If I were them, I don't know that I'd be put off coalition governments.

Sure, a lot of UKIP support is coming from ex-Tories, but a lot are coming from ex-Labour supporters as well. I daresay that's a lot more true with the Green party (although I figure the Greens are doing well at the Lib Dem's expense).

As we enter the realm of five party politics for the first time, it makes it more difficult for any party to gain an overall majority. So maybe that stops being the goal, and the goal becomes just making sure you're in a position to be in the driving seat in a coalition.

If you were going to do that, I reckon you'd be pushing for more parties. Because the vote gets split more, and the gamble is that the split hurts your competitors worse than it hurts you.

And that's just a coalition with parties that aren't anything like them. There's the terrifying possibility that a Conservative/UKIP coalition could be a more appealing option.

The chances are that I'm wrong in this, and the goal is a strong majority. But I do think that, at least, the Conservatives have proven to be able to play coalition politics well enough that it may not be the scary prospect for them that it once was.

If I'm right? Then the conditions needed for the Conservatives to consider their position to be 'a win' have lowered quite a bit. And they still get to do a lot of the things they want.

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