By Paul Goodman
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“I think the Coalition will run to 2015. How exactly you separate before an election and fight an election: to be determined.”
This form of words – "I think the Coalition will run to 2015" – will naturally set off more speculation about possible breakdown, confidence-and-supply and so on. It may or may not be accidental that he didn't say: "I am confident that the Coalition will run etc." I would guess so: we can read too much into forms of words in interviews, a risk I suppose that I am running myself.
But his words certainly raised another question, and one scarcely less thorny. Let's presume that the Coalition does go all the way to 2015. How will it manage its Parliamentary business (in particular) during its last year?
It may be by then that either Mr Cameron or Ed Miliband will have assembled a commanding and unassailable poll lead. Or it may be, given the general decline in the vore share of the three main parties, that a hung Parliament is possible. I suspect that the latter is the more likely eventuality.
In which case, the Westminster Village will be swept by rumours of a possible post-election Lib-Lab deal. And indeed a possible post-election Con-Lib deal, and the continuation of the Coalition.
The hunt will be on to find out who is speaking covertly to whom. Is Vince Cable in secret communication with Mr Miliband? Is Lord Oakeshott a go-between? Is Danny Alexander a mole? You know the sort of thing.
Co-operation between Coalition advisers, never entirely trouble free, will slow further. Amidst this uncertainty, SPADs will start seeking the exit door. Backbenchers may rally as the election approaches. Or they may simply up the already record rebellion rate. Leaks will abound.
Then there is the question, which the Prime Minister is evidently chewing over, of how the two partners differentiate themselves during the final months. Were I a business manager I wouldn't be planning any contentious legislation for the final session of this Parliament.
Indeed, finding MPs activity to keep them busy on the hamster wheel, when they will already be made skittish by pre-election nerves, is a looming problem.