The conventional wisdom is wrong: David Cameron and Nick Clegg are now bound even more tightly together

by Atul Hatwal

Another pained press conference from Nick Clegg, another central plank of the Lib Dem’s beloved constitutional reform agenda disappears for a generation.

So farewell then Lords reform, we’ll see you in twenty-five years when all of the politicians who have witnessed first-hand the Lib Dem’s failure on the Lords and electoral reform, have passed from this parliamentary coil.

But, all this was known the moment 91 Tory backbenchers decided to use the Lords as an excuse to attack their leader. The votes weren’t there. The real news from Clegg’s study in sanctimonious defeat yesterday was confirmation of the tit for tat blocking of the Tories’ boundary review.

According to Lib Dem sources, Clegg attempted to mount a damage containment exercise when the extent of the Tory rebellion became obvious, sounding out MPs about the prospect of not vetoing the new boundaries.

As frustrated as Clegg was by the Tories, he privately accepted the position in which David Cameron has found himself. It’s a position Clegg empathises with and experiences himself with his own backbenches.

But the Lib Dem leader had to accept political reality. For all the fanciful recent talk of Vince Cable as a future leader of the party, the message went back to the Lib Dem leadership that there really might be regime change if Clegg did not strike back at the Tories.

The immediate reaction to this spat among much of the commentariat is to conclude that the coalition is headed for the rocks.

Certainly the massed off-the-record ranks of Tory backbenchers have done their bit to promote this notion with blood curdling talk of revenge on Clegg for the boundary betrayal.

But the reality is that the leaders of the Tories and Lib Dems are now bound even more tightly together. Assuming the projections of Tory advantage from the boundary review are correct, then David Cameron will need his Lib Dem coalition partners all the more if he is to stay in office after the next election.

The double digit shortfall in Tory numbers from sticking with the current boundaries make a Conservative government even less likely, and a continuation of the coalition the one route for David Cameron to hang on in Number 10 post-2015.

For his part, Nick Clegg is acutely aware of what he has just done.

It’s a big step to veto the boundary review. There are a limited number of occasions the Lib Dems can derail a major Tory policy before David Cameron’s splenetic backbenchers force a coalition split. So limited in fact that this might just be the one time the Lib Dems can do this without facing the Götterdämmerung of an imminent election.

That is a prospect which all Lib Dem MPs, leadership loyalists or Farron left-wingers, view with the same horror.

Clegg has played tit for tat but he knows this was a one-shot game, as do his MPs.

For all the boisterous talk from the left of the Lib Dems, there will be no great flowering of an alternative, progressive Lib Dem agenda. The immediate reaction from the Lib Dems will be to calm the situation, focus on the economy and perhaps extract a concession on party funding that can be trumpeted to the party as evidence of a practical return.

Tory backbenchers might prowl in front of college green cameras over the coming days, beating their chests, but their Lib Dem backbench counterparts are not going to give them the fight they so crave.

With no constitutional cassus belli left on the coalition forward planner, the Tories and Lib Dems will focus on the economy. As bad as the double dip recession is, does anyone seriously think that deficit reduction will generate an abiding split between the Tories and Lib Dems?

Instead, with their parties becalmed, David Cameron and Nick Clegg will do what they have done over the past two years: act in their own self- interest. They will smile and wave in unison. They will emote from parallel podiums at the next coalition re-launch and, most of all, they will double down on presenting themselves as a government of national unity

Atul Hatwal is editor at Uncut

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11 Responses to “The conventional wisdom is wrong: David Cameron and Nick Clegg are now bound even more tightly together”

  1. Nick says:

    So Labour should support boundary reviews. Combined with the conservatives, the Lib Dems would have another temper tantrum

  2. BenM says:

    Where’s AnonEMouse disappeared to?

    Wasn’t the boundary review (aka gerrymandering) supposed to vanquish any thoughts of a Labour victory in 2015 and beyond?!


  3. Mike Homfray says:

    This could well be right in terms of the front benches.

    But I think both backbenches might be far more restless. Tory right wingers think Cameron is a sellout and want rid. LibDems who aim to hold on to their seats on their personal following will place that ahead of the future of the party

    Put these together and revolts could be frequent

  4. Rob Marchant says:

    M’learned colleague has called it quite right. The conventional wisdom is wrong.

  5. anon says:


    When was coalition meltdown ever the conventional wisdom – even Nick Robinson didn’t think so.

    The actual conventional wisdom is that Nick Clegg is a sanctimonious muppet.

  6. Anon E Mouse says:

    BenM – Still here. Not gone anywhere just busy at work.

    If you actually believe Labour will win the next election than nothing here has changed…

  7. Anon E Mouse says:

    BenM – Further. If you believe Ed Miliband will face the TV cameras and explain that he thinks it’s fair to have unequally sized constituencies and a desire to keep 650 instead of a reduction to 600 MP’s then you know something about him I don’t.

    Clegg is shameless on this and there will be snow flakes in hell before I’ll vote Lib-Dem again.

    The only thing wrong is that we need even less MP’s than the proposal so let’s see what happens because my bet is that faced with the division lobby to vote with his cabinet colleagues or face annihilation at the hands of the electorate should the Tories call a snap election Clegg will buckle…

  8. Ray_North says:

    Whichever way you look at it – the Coalition is in absolute disarray – from now until the next general election, Lib-Dem MPs will have sleepless nights as the terror of what is about befall them at the hands of the voters, whilst Tory backbenchers will grow increasingly restive.
    The aim for Labour will be to position themselves politically, but also tap into the mood of the nation, and, I have to say, that recently the Labour Leadership is showing a great deal of political nous – they have played the Lords Reform/Boundary Changes issue extremely well.
    Here’s a piece that analyses Ed Miliband’s tactics on Lords Reform extremely well:

  9. Anon E Mouse says:

    Ray_North – The electorate isn’t interested in phone hacking or any of the other things Miliband is perceived to have done well on.

    Believing that labour will win the next election is just wishful thinking on your part.

    Labour supporters are in favour of the benefits changes and other so called right wing positions.

    Until that bunch apologise for the mess they left the county in – financially and immigration mainly (although finally they have conceded they were wrong with their “Open Borders” policy and the census reinforces that fact) they will remain unelectable.

    Just a picture of Gordon Brown on a poster at the next election would do it along with some EU referendum guarantee and Cameron will be in…

  10. Rallan says:

    Absolutely the Tory & LibDems are stuck together. Not just because of the electoral prospects, but also because an early general election would seriously freak the markets out. Trying to make it happen is horribly irresponsible. Our interest rates would soar and the British economy would get totally (perhaps irreversibly) caned.

    For the sake of the country, 2015 must be the earliest date for a general election. And what a depressing choice that’ll be.

    The Conservatives are an disjointed embarrassment, with uninspiring leadership that is rapidly losing credibility. The constant gaffs and defeats are painful. They seem incapable of uniting on anything other than the (widely accepted, like it or not) need for cuts. They seem almost incoherent in government on every other subject, demonstrating a constant failure to properly plan and a general lack of competence.

    Labour hates democracy, is literally owned by the furthest left unions and has an unbroken track record of economic catastrophe (which is widely acknowledged). They are unprincipled, irresponsible and a wholly un-constructive force in opposition to everything. They are determined to subvert the will of the people by keeping anti-democratic boundaries so that they can impose unwanted rule on an unhappy England. Also see Labours attempt to sew up permanent victory through massive immigration & semi-legal postal vote fraud.

    The LibDems are a complete disgrace, a political parasite that cannot exist without a much larger host. They are now throwing an unprincipled tantrum because they failed to force a very, very bad idea on the country. Their ideas are rightly rejected whenever that are put to the vote. AV failed because it was a bad idea presented badly, and the proposed Lords reform was an obviously terrible idea. Electoral Reform = Good, Lords Reform = Good, LibDem Ideas for Reform = Bad.

    Labour & the Conservatives are both run entirely by tight little isolated gangs at the top, who share power between friends and family. None of them have ever done a days work and they acknowledge/obey only their big donors. None of them have valid qualifications to hold their posts, and none of them are working simply for the good of the nation. Everything they do is an internal stitch up or political point scoring against the “enemy” party. Neither party leadership is listening to their own MPs, let alone the wider public.

    None of the parties give a crap about the will of the people. They pay lip service to public duty, and are only really interested in imposing their own (or their paymasters) agendas. Seriously, what the hell is a “Professional Politician” if not an unqualified egocentric weasel taking undeserved control & authority over other people? Do you respect them?

    These will be our choices at the next general election. No one should be proud of that.

    No matter what electoral outcome you look at, the “winner” will be unwanted & discredited from the start. Governing under those circumstances is not going to be a victory.

  11. uglyfatbloke says:

    The Glib-Dumbs certainly won’t want to risk an election in the near future, but nobody else wants one either. The tories don’t like the look of the polls, but think that they will recover in a 2 years time. Labour does like the look of the polls in England, but are a bit worried about Scotland – though they should be much more worried than they are with the gnats 10-15 points ahead despite being in power for 5 years.
    The Glib-Dumbs are scared that they would lose half their seats in England and virtually everything in Scotland; they might even be reduced to a mere rump of a dozen MPs like they were in the seventies.
    No-one has any money (apart from the gnats and most of theirs is tied up for the referendum) and so many people are so utterly fed-up with the arrogance and the thieving of politicians that election turnout is bound to be very low indeed, which makes it harder to predict outcomes regardless of what the polls say

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