Tom Clarke runs a family farming business and is a Conservative activist based in both London and Cambridgeshire.
What will it take to keep Ed Miliband out of Number 10? Even a election result similar to some of last month’s opinion polls, which had the Conservatives temporarily in the lead, probably wouldn’t be enough. That would still leave Labour as the largest party in a hung parliament. Whereas we’d need a clear lead of at least 5 points to achieve the same. What’s to be done?
The first thing to note is that, whatever the common ground, UKIP don’t want to help the Conservatives. They are out to replace us. Assuming that they won enough seats to barter, they would always set their price just a little too high, seeking to weaken, divide and destroy us in the process.
So, what about our current Coalition partners? Before 2010, it was hard to imagine a union with the Lib Dems. For all of my adult life, politics had seemed like a two-on-one scrap – where the Lib-Lab thugs ganged up on the lone Tory. Then came electoral realities, the Rose Garden, and a left-wing Lib Dem playing Business Secretary under a Conservative Prime Minister! Politics can make strange bedfellows.
But the Lib Dems are going to be slaughtered by the voters, hanging on in only those seats where they have been digging in for decades. There won’t be enough of them for a repeat performance.
Barring unexpected events, we could then be looking at a partnership of three or more parties. The DUP might push us over the top, but, with only 8 MPs. that could be a faint hope. Also, due to the sectarian tensions in Northern Ireland, a confidence and supply arrangement would be more realistic.
Does that exhaust all the options? Until recently, yes. Yet now around the dark cloud of the national polls is the silver lining of the Scottish ones. On recent form, these show Labour winning only 4 seats, as the SNP tack leftward. The SNP could win 54 seats at Westminster in 2015. That’s only two less than the Lib Dems hold today. They would be the third largest party in the House of Commons.
The Scottish Referendum, and healthy No vote, has changed the game. Independence has been debated and decided. More powers are going to Scotland, but it’s staying within the UK for a decade or more. End of.
Unlike Iain Dale or Ruth Davidson, you may well scoff at the idea of the Nats deigning to work with “evil” English Tories. They themselves will forswear it completely ahead of next May. Indeed, both Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond have recently ruled out “propping up a Conservative Government”. But this is Tory-phobia with a purpose, which is mining votes in Scotland’s Labour heartlands where any whiff of a deal will scupper their chances. Labour is their prime target – and we should be glad.
It’s true, a “National Coalition” of the SNP in Scotland and the Conservatives in England and Wales is only possible under very specific circumstances. In any result where Labour is the largest party, but dependent on the Nats, the SNP’s goal would be to leech money, policy and power to Scotland for the barest concessions – weakening Labour and the Union, in order to destroy both. For the same reason UKIP won’t work with us, the SNP won’t aid a Labour Party they want to sabotage.
Only if the election delivers a Conservative majority in England and Wales, and we are the largest single party UK wide, does the “National Coalition” even begin to sprout feathers. The clincher being that Scottish Nationalist Party MPs don’t vote on English-only matters in Westminster as a point of principle.
In such circumstances, despite their current antipathy to the Tories, how could the SNP impose a Labour Government on an England that had not voted for it – when, for decades, they have argued against the reverse position in Scotland?
Moreover, by partnering up they would be returning a favour: between 2007-2011 a Scottish Tory/Nat Pact worked together to keep Labour out of office in Holyrood. The SNP dropped their anti-Tory rules for local government a while ago, and an SNP/Tory coalition runs Dumfries & Galloway. Following the Referendum, the Conservative Party is the most pro-devolution Unionist party, ready to pass sweeping powers over income tax rates and bands and a hefty chunk of VAT too.
Even so, negotiations would take more than five days, and we’d have to prepare some extremely tempting treats to have the “National Coalition” actually take flight. What might these be? Alex Salmond as Deputy PM chairing a Constitutional Convention on a Federal UK? An SNP Energy & Climate Change Secretary taking charge of “Scotland’s oil”? An SNP Defence Secretary moving a renewed Trident to Barrow or Devonport? A second successive non-Tory Scot as Chief Secretary to the Treasury? Even consider, an SNP Foreign Secretary conceding a referendum, but leading the negotiations to repatriate powers from the EU – they have shown quite a knack for that sort of thing.
In formal coalition with the SNP, English-only ministries such as Health, Education, Justice, Defra, DCLG, DCMS would be Conservative domains. It would also be reasonable to give us the upper hand in those ministries with a large overlap with Holyrood, such as Transport, policing and – pending Devo Max – welfare. This leaves plenty of ground for us to deliver Conservative policies to the remaining 50 million people of England, and leave the SNP to get on with governing Scotland, without actually leaving them anyone in London to create an artificial grievance against.
In the meantime, let’s keep working for a Conservative majority government. But it does no harm to prepare for the unexpected.