Thursday, March 16, 2006

Clarke flies a kite for coalition

The next General Election is still at least three years away...but already Ken Clarke is talking up the prospect of a Tory-Lib Dem coalition in an interview in today's Spectator - helpfully reproduced online at e-politix as the Speccie insists on charging us for visiting its web pages.

The idea is not so fanciful as many will instinctively suppose. As the excellent Electoral Calculus website shows, the Tories will have to be a long way in front of Labour to get an overall majority at the next election, and the best estimate at the moment is that they are likely to fall short of that.

But the issue Clarke is specifically addressing in this interview is the political dynamics which such a result will create in terms of who teams up with who in a hung Parliament. While I have absolutely no doubt that Sir Menzies Campbell would prefer to join a coalition led by Gordon Brown, that may not be an option if the Tories both win the popular vote and comprise the largest single party.

In those circumstances, as I discussed in a recent column entitled Which Way Will Ming Swing?, it would be politically impossible for the Lib Dems to sustain a defeated Labour Government in power, and Sir Ming would have little option but to get into bed with Mr Cameron.

In return, Mr Cameron would of course have to promise electoral reform, but by then he will hopefully have realised how unfair the current system is to the Tories and how they might actually benefit by the introduction of proportional representation.

Mr Cameron will no doubt deny it till he's blue in the face - but I reckon Old Ken might just be flying this kite with his leader's tacit approval.

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