David Cameron doesn’t want to share power with another political party after the General Election. That is one of the big news stories this morning, with the Daily Telegraph also suggesting that Mr Cameron could put a ‘no coalition’ commitment into the Conservatives’ election manifesto.
The news will come as a blow to Nick Clegg, who has made no secret of his desire to keep the Lib Dems in power through a coalition with either Labour or the Conservatives. At first glance it also represents a remarkable volte face from a Prime Minister who over the last year had not appeared to have ruled out a post-2015 power-share with the Lib Dems.
Frankly, news that Mr Cameron is not seeking a coalition should not come as much as a shock. His premiership since 2010 has been a juggling act between pacifying his own backbenches, who want the Government to go further than it has, and accommodating the Lib Dems. Mr Cameron has made no secret of the fact that he is seeking a majority Conservative government in 2015 – and indeed it would undermine his grasp on the leadership were he to suggest otherwise. Tensions between the coalition parties are higher than at any point over the last four years, and while there is no suggestion or reason to think the coalition will collapse before 2015, what we are seeing is a slow estrangement before a possible divorce in little over 12 months.
The strategy behind Mr Cameron’s decision appears to be a willingness and desire to pitch the Conservatives head to head with Labour. It’s a reasonable plan. The Lib Dems are facing near annihilation in the European elections and fighting to stay in double figures in the polls. Voters will not have forgotten issues such as tuition fees and a number of their MPs (including potentially Nick Clegg) will be vulnerable to challenges in the General Election, when the Party will not be able to benefit from appearing a fresh alternative as it did in 2010 when Mr Clegg took the televised debates by storm (although this didn’t ultimately translate into votes at the ballot box). Equally, the Conservatives will be very mindful that Mr Cameron commands a substantial personal lead in the polls over Ed Miliband, and that Labour economic credibility is still in need of resurrection.
At the same time, it is a ploy not without its risks. The Conservatives will have to make up substantial ground in the polls if a majority is to be secured and if they completely rule out a coalition, their options will be limited to absolute electoral victory or the risks of governing while in the minority. In contrast, Mr Clegg and Mr Miliband could still have the option of coalition open to them.
Mr Cameron’s decision isn’t surprising, but equally don’t be surprised if pragmatism rules the day after the General Election. There might still be a cabinet after May 2015 with both Cameron and Clegg in it.