Ben Harris-Quinney: Time to pull the plug on coalition and fight to win

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Like many members of the Conservative Party, I wasn’t in favour of entering into coalition with the Liberal Democrats in 2010.

Given the true extent of the parlous nature of the nation’s finances that were left by Labour after the last general election, a minority Conservative Government could have made the case for the need for strong urgent reform, and operated for nine months to a year, perhaps with a confidence and supply agreement with the Lib Dems.

Another general election would have followed in early 2011, which would have likely offered the Conservatives their best chance of a majority government.

Once the decision was made to form a coalition however, in order to ensure stability politically and economically, it was important that the coalition Government remained intact to complete its legislative agenda.

That agenda, as laid out in the Coalition Agreement, has now been exhausted and both Conservative and Lib Dem members are increasingly of the view that there is little more this government can achieve.

Perhaps a more pressing reality for MPs is that with the 2015 general election rapidly approaching, it will be increasingly important for the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to define their independent, and often contradictory, positions on the major issues facing Britain.

It is with this in mind that the Bow Group has called for the break-up of the coalition and a delineation of future conservative policies as soon as possible, to allow the Conservative Party to set out its political agenda, without interference from the Liberal Democrats.

The organisation recently held a debate in Parliament on how the coalition should break up, where Graham Brady MP, Chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench MPs and the experienced backbencher John Redwood MP both gave their support to the Bow Group’s position, alongside a growing number of Parliamentarians including Lord Tebbit, Priti Patel, Nick De Bois, David Nuttall and John Hayes.

Speaking at the event Brady said that coalition shouldn’t last right up to 2015 because both parties will “need some space, some independence so that they can present their separate visions to people before the General Election.”

Echoing the views of these backbench MPs, a recent poll by the website Conservative Home found that over 75 per cent of Conservative Party members would like to see the coalition split well in advance of the 2015 general election.

While the official position of the Conservative Party leadership remains that the coalition will last until 2015, it seems unlikely in the face of such strong opposition from MPs and members.

John Redwood MP has said: “There is no good pretending any more that, for example, Iain Duncan Smith agrees with Nick Clegg on the European Union. They disagree fundamentally on European Union and much else, and the more we hear that the better.”

His solution on how to break up the coalition is that the Conservative majority within the government should start to press very strongly for two or three conservative policies “and then when the Liberals really don’t like it, maybe the Liberals will wish to leave.”

Ultimately the decision is likely to come down to what places the Conservative Party in the best position to win in 2015, and what seems clear is that some bold moves will be necessary in the next 12 months to shift to a realistic chance of winning a majority.

Following the Conservative retention of Newark in the recent by-election, it was widely proclaimed by the Conservative Party that a significant victory had been achieved, while Ukip had gone into reverse. The fact, however, was that the Conservative vote declined by almost 37 per cent, with vast resources committed to the campaign, while Ukip increased their portion of the vote by a factor of over 500 per cent.

Our research found that a continuation of that status quo would mean that Ukip would be on course to win 12 seats across the Conservatives’ much coveted “40/40” target seats, and the Conservatives would miss 33 of their targets, leaving them unable once again to form a majority government in 2015.

There has been much talk of “listening and hearing” from the Conservative Party leadership following Ukip’s success in the European and local elections, and much resulting criticism of continued federalism in Europe, yet at home the fact remains that we are in coalition with a committed Euro-Federalist Party in the shape of the Liberal Democrats.

While this continues to be the case, it will be impossible to convince voters, particularly those that have voted Ukip, that the Conservative Party remains genuinely committed to conservative policies on Europe and immigration.

Breaking up the coalition Government as soon as possible would send that signal, and it might just be a bold enough move to give the Conservative Party a chance of a majority in 2015.

Ben Harris-Quinney is Chairman of the Bow Group and Director of Conservative Grassroots. He tweets @B_HQ.