While Number 10 is pouring cold water on suggestions that the Prime Minister might rule out a second coalition in the 2015 manifesto, his MPs have given it a rather icy reception. If the hints about him preferring a minority government to governing with the Lib Dems were supposed to reassure those on the Right that he does love them more than he loves Nick Clegg, they seem to have backfired rather. Instead, Conservative MPs I’ve spoken to today are annoyed for a variety of reasons.
The first is that backbenchers feel any plan to rule out a coalition in the manifesto is counterproductive. It’s worth noting that Number 10 sources are insisting that ‘our manifesto is about policy’ rather than giving any suggestion that there would be a commitment on minority government in the document. But one MP points out that this ‘gives the Lib Dems a perfect excuse to switch to Labour’ as it rules out working with them. Another says ‘given the choice between coalition government with the Lib Dems and no government with Dave leading us in Opposition, I’d take coalition’, adding that while Cameron may want to encourage the right of his party that he does like them after all, ruling out coalition before the general election has even taken place may put off centrist voters who might suppose that the Prime Minister is stubborn and unattractively partisan (the poor chap can’t win, can he?).
Another reason for rage is that backbenchers just don’t quite believe the Prime Minister. ‘We know he’s not right-wing anyway,’ mutters one MP. Another says ‘It is a classic “how does this play Dave” rather than any solid logic. If the electorate want a coalition by how they vote then that is what we have to give them.’
Interestingly, though Number 10 is annoyed at any suggestion the Conservatives aren’t steaming towards a majority, that’s not the main thing that’s annoying MPs. They are quite comfortable with the notion that the PM might be preparing for minority government – just not that he’s trying to soothe them in what they perceive to be a rather transparent and insincere fashion.
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