When Baroness Sally Morgan is agitating against the Tories, it’s not too surprising. She’s lost her job as chair of Ofsted because of Michael Gove… she’s Tony Blair’s former director of government relations… she’s as mad as hell and she’s not going to take it anymore… yadda, yadda, yadda.
But when David Laws is doing the same, it’s a little different – and, boy, is he doing the same. A source close to the Lib Dem minister has let it be known that “David is absolutely furious at the blatant attempts by the Tories to politicise Ofsted.” They add that he’s “absolutely determined not to let Michael undermine the independence of this vital part of the education system”. And that’s not all of it – you can read more of Laws’s party political broadcast here.
It really clarifies the prospect of a breakdown in Coalition relations before the next election. We always knew that there’d be differentiation on toast, this year, but few would have guessed that Laws would spread on so thick. As one Lib Dem put it to The Spectator’s James Forsyth last week, “We’re not in a coalition now. We’re just cohabiting.”
So what better time to check the attitudes of Conservative members towards the Lib Dems? Here are four graphs I’ve put together from ConHome’s monthly surveys of party members. They cover the last seven months for two main reasons: i) we haven’t reported on these numbers for quite a while, and ii) it helps make a point that I’ll get to below (clue: the point that’s in the headline).
Anyway, here’s the first graph: on whether the Coalition is a good thing for the nation. The latest figures, from last week’s survey, have 57 per cent of respondents saying Yes, and 37 per cent saying No. That’s gloomier than it used to be – for instance, 77 per cent of respondents said Yes in January 2011 – but it’s basically unchanged over the last few months:
And it’s a similar story for the question of whether the Coalition is a good thing for the Conservative Party, albeit with the Agree and Disagree lines switched around:
Since last year, we’ve also asked party members when they think the Coalition should come to an end. Strikingly, “shortly before the 2015 general election” and “at the 2015 general election” account for over two-thirds of the vote. Conservative activists are in this for the long-run:
But are they up for another Coalition after the next election? Not really. Over half are opposed, broadly or strongly, to such a possibility. Although, against this morning’s finding that two-in-five party members want a pact with UKIP, it’s worth noting again that a third would be supportive of another Coalition with the Lib Dems:
What stands out most to me from these results, however, is just their sheer consistency. Tory members’ views about the Coalition, and the possibility of other Coalitions, have remained more or less flat over the past half-year. We’ll keep an eye on whether that changes as Laws & Co. start sandalling up a fuss this year.