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By Peter Hoskin
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“Screw
the Lib Dems, and just do it anyway.” Ever since the Coalition was formed, the
Tory leadership has been advised to do just that – but now, in these post-Eastleigh
days, the words are becoming louder and more insistent. In its leader
column
today, for instance, the Daily Mail concludes that the public wants:

“…coherent
ideas which can be implemented immediately – regardless of the objections of
Lib Dems who, if they pulled the plug on the Coalition, would face electoral
annihilation.”

In
some ways, this argument is understandable. It’s true that the Lib Dems block
Tory policy ideas, and – what’s more frustrating – sometimes those policy ideas
are good ones, too. It’s also true that the Lib Dems would face “electoral
annihilation” should they terminate the Coalition. Last week’s by-election
victory notwithstanding, they’re currently stuck at around 10 per cent in
polls. That’s not a level of support that Nick Clegg and his MPs will be eager
to test.

And
yet I don’t agree that the Tory leadership should just steamroller over the Lib
Dems. There are two particular reasons.


First,
it would go against the founding principles of the Coalition. This might sound
a soppy sort of point, but it’s actually something more than that. If the
Coalition Agreement is effectively annulled, then it’s not just the public’s dwindling
trust in politics that is likely to be undermined. The Lib Dem’s faith in
coalition with Tories, now and in the future, would be too – and that could
carry disastrous implications in the event of another hung parliament. Far
better for the Tories to achieve as much as possible within the political
framework that has been imposed on them. That’s why I’ve suggested areas for intra-Coalition
cooperation
and concession
in the past.

Second,
is it really wise for the Tory leadership to even risk the Lib Dems “pulling the
plug” right now? An election may not be welcomed by Mr Clegg’s party at the moment,
but the same could be said for David Cameron’s. The Ukip threat hasn’t been
nullified; Labour are 10 points ahead in the polls – this is not propitious ground
for electoral brinkmanship. And even if it didn’t come to an election,
constantly undermining the Lib Dems would surely weaken Nick Clegg’s leadership,
with the negative
consequences
I noted last week. The fundamental point is that it could make
a Labour government more likely – and that would, er, result in even fewer Tory
policies being implemented.

Of
course, none of this is to say that the Tory leadership should bow to every Lib
Dem whim and demand – but the fact is, they don’t. And it’s likely that, as the
election approaches and differentiation takes hold, they will fight even more
vigorously for a blue agenda. As Tim Montgomerie has said
in the past
, we might even see the current constraints – frustrating though
they are – as a sort of opportunity. Today: chrysalis. Tomorrow: butterfly.

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