After the election: The Conservatives’ big liberal gamble

So is it game and set and match to Mr Cameron? Although, judging by an exceptionally peppery editorial in the Spectator today, not everyone on the Tory benches is happy with arrangement.

Still, it seems that the two Edwardian gentlemen agree in principle as early as Saturday night, over Pizza, that cohabitation would be a thoroughly fine thing.

This was a classic vindication of the old saw, work for victory, but plan for disappointment. Many in his party will say, and with some justification that a tad more boldness and he might have been trusted with the keys of the whole farm rather than a probationary with the Lib Dems charged with keeping an eye on them.

I suspect Ken Clarke as Shadow Chancellor would have given them the gravitas, the blokishness and the clear eyed understanding of just what Gordon Brown had inherited in 1997. But they declined for several reasons, which may throw some light on where the party is now.

To be fair, the Conservatives only did what all the parties did in this election, and that was to be economical with the truth on the one thing that was on everyone’s mind… The deficit… At last night’s election replay event at the RSA, Joe Trippi ascribed the deflated character of the online debate to that lack of boldness.

So to the coalition settlement. How was it for the Conservatives? The honest answer is, a Curate’s egg. In truth they failed to nail a bad and failing government decisively. This was no 1997, or even 1979. But the big advantage for the small ‘l’ liberal Cameronistas is that instead of having to deal with its own right wing, it has a group who are even more liberal than them.

It has the further advantage of deflating significant fears that the Conservative party is intent on an aimless round of cutting and bleeding (1980s stylee) will imminently pull the UK out of the EU, continue to exert a largely unconscious force upon the Scots towards the exit door of the Union. His double act, for instance, with the Scottish Lib Dem Danny Alexander in Holyrood this afternoon, lends him authority his own party still cannot provide him north of the border.

The real advantage though is that it gives him the option of keeping what Janet Daley refers to as the sane right inside the tent (, and keeps what she presumably refers to as the less sane ones off his back.  And, despite all the weeping and gnashing of teeth, Clegg is no muesli munching lefty.

This coalition is a long slow working out of the Orange Book gang’s rise to power. As Danny Finklestein noted back in October 2007, when Clegg succeeded Menzies Campbell as leader of the Liberal Democrats, things changed in ways that perhaps even Danny had not anticipated:

“Clegg, talks openly about the problems of big government, state interference and monopolies in health and education. His election would help to shift the centre of gravity in the political debate towards the freedom loving right.”

The body language between the Cameroons and the Cleggites is good just now. My only word of caution is that coalitions take consistent hard work to ensure there is no public gap between the two main players. It will not be in the interests of either party to allow the kinds of gaps grow that may well have done for the UCU-NF experiment.

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