Something has undoubtedly changed in the coalition in the past fortnight. Even those at the centre, who have been most loyal to the concept of coalition, are now happy to complain about the other side and its behaviour.
But I’m still sceptical of all the early election speculation which has been sparked by Jackie Ashley’s very clever Guardian column. The main reason why I don’t think it will happen is the Cameron brand. Ever since David Cameron became leader of the Conservative party, the top of the party has believed that the protection of the Cameron brand is essential to electoral success. Cameron has too much personally invested in showing that the coalition can work to let it fail. The coalition is now key to Cameron’s whole political persona.
The second reason is that an election sparked by the breakdown of the coalition would be dominated by Lib Dem Conservative backbiting. It would provide the perfect conditions for Labour to come through the middle and avoid scrutiny of its dubious decisions on the deficit.
Thirdly, there’s the economy. Whatever GDP numbers come out tomorrow, there’s no economic feel good factor yet. Going to the country early, would make it easier for Labour to claim that it is hurting but not working. Allied to this, the Tories have yet to produce much of a retail offer for voters. I understand that George Osborne, who remains the Tories’ chief election strategist as well as the chancellor, believes that the party needs until 2013 to win these two arguments.
As for the Liberal Democrats, however cross they may be with the Tories they know that walking out would force an election that would be a disaster for them. It is far more likely that they try to aggressively assert their independence while remaining in the coalition than that they walk out.
Having said all this, there are, obviously, the unknown unknowns—the event that could blow apart the whole coalition that nobody has seen coming. But I’d still have my money against an election this year.