At the General Election, the Conservatives registered a count of 307 seats. Throughout 2009, it looked as though we would win an overall majority. Having noted the performance of UKIP, I am now convinced that what cost the Conservatives that overall majority was in large part connected with the withdrawal of the proposal to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. UKIP had always said that they would have supported the Conservatives at the General Election if they had maintained the policy.
There are some Conservatives (Lord Tebbit was one of them) who wanted the Conservatives to continue with the policy on holding a referendum. They may have won an election outright but they would have been taking a much bigger risk with the National Interest and the party’s interest further down the line. A referendum on the Lisbon treaty post ratification would have been a referendum on membership of the Euro. The ultimate scenario could have spelt disaster. Britain might have voted itself out of Europe and the Conservative Party might have fatally torn itself apart.
Looking at Conservative Policy and politics over the last four years, it is quite obvious that in appreciating the scale of the task for getting back to power, the Conservatives were planning the scenario of a hung parliament, just as they were looking at every alternative to avoid it. Competing aggressively for the centre ground of politics was one part of the strategy. Their green policy was not just an ethical consideration of the Environment. Their libertarian approach to politics was not merely shaped by philosophy. Much of the drive behind these policies was a determination to fight the ground of the Liberal Democrats. In large part, this strategy succeeded. There was little opportunity for the Lib Dems to advance until the TV debate during the election campaign.
Consider also the Conservative strategy for Scotland. The Conservatives did not win any new seats in Scotland. However, they did buy political kudos from the Scottish Nationalists by agreeing to allow them to govern at the Scottish Assembly. The Scottish Nationalists have six MPs. They could, passively or actively, play a crucial part in the negotiations for a new Government in the next few days.
Consider also the Conservative approach to Northern Ireland. The Conservatives had hoped that the link up with the UUP would have delivered them extra seats. Alas, by the beginning of the year, once it became obvious that the link up with the UUP was not going to deliver, the Conservatives got their hands dirty with the DUP, hence the Hatfield House talks and the Fermanagh South Tyrone deal. The latter gamble did not pay off. Whilst I did not agree with the deal, it was understandable. We can at least say that it was out of Character for our leadership to agree that. The hung parliament spectre was the driving force behind it. In a future post, I will be setting out my proposal as to how the Conservatives in Northern Ireland should respond to the problem left behind by that deal.
Recently, it was reported that the Conservatives were promising an extra £200 million following further talks with the DUP. That is entirely consistent with a stratagem to deal with the hung Parliament problem. Unlike deals on representation and candidates, I do not consider that kind of deal to be pernicious. The Government has to do what is best for the Country as a whole. However, there are others who will criticise such a deal as pandering to sectarianism. Indeed, Lord Ashdown yesterday was asking the question as to whether David Cameron was going to do a deal with “the Orangemen.”
Lord Ashdown’s comments betray a fear within the Liberal Democrat camp that their hand might not quite be strong enough to push for for an unconditional committment to their holy grail of proportional representation in Parliamentary Elections.
With the option of governing on the basis of a minority government, the Conservatives, just as they threw away the referendum policy on Europe, have to consider the National interest in their approach to forming a Government. The Country has a debt mountain to deal with. We have a war in Afghanistan. The Country needs the strongest possible Government. It is absolutely right that the Conservatives should give priority to trying to make a deal with the Liberal Democrats.
Yesterday, David Cameron set out the Conservative position. He made a momentous speech setting out bullet point terms for the Lib Dems joining in partnership. He outlined the issues on which there would not be negotiation, such as the policy on immigration. In proposing an all party committee on electoral reform, with a promise to implement legislation on the basis of its recommendations, David Cameron has effectively made it almost impossible for the Lib Dems to become involved in a grand coalition with Gordon Brown. Indeed, I proposed in one of my recent posts that David Cameron should make some sort of offer on elections for precisely that reason. David Cameron has now shot Gordon Brown’s Fox.
Taking together everything that has happened, David Cameron has played a blinder for the Conservatives since the moment he became our leader. Yes, he makes mistakes but he always manages to adjust very quickly. It is hard not to look at his performance with a certain amount of awe. He may yet turn out to be one of Britain’s greatest ever politicians.
Filed under: Conservative Party, David Cameron, DUP, George Osborne, Gordon Brown, Labour Party, Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, UK constitution, UK Parliament, Westminster | Tagged: Conservative Party, David Cameron, DUP, Electoral reform, General Election, George Osborne, Gordon Brown, Hung Parliament, Labour Party, Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, Normal Politics, Northern Ireland politics, UK constitution, UK Parliament, Westminster | 3 Comments »