Grant Woodward: History may yet be a kind judge of the coalition

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Hands up then, who actually thought the love affair would last?

The mood music in the Downing Street Rose Garden five years ago may have been sweet enough, but the coalition between the Tories and
Lib Dems looked rocky from
the start.

There wasn’t a gap between the parties’ respective aspirations, more a yawning chasm. The Lib Dems wanted electoral reform in the shape of proportional representation. David Cameron promised them a referendum – then fronted the ‘No’ campaign himself.

Yet somehow, in defiance of the odds, the coalition has survived intact. Unlikely bedfellows at the best of times, the two parties came together at the very worst of times to stop HMS Britain going down like the Titanic.

Or at least that is what they will be telling us between now and election day – with each claiming the credit.

All the polls say Mr Clegg will end up carrying the can for a string of broken promises on everything from voting reform to tuition fees.

Some may level the charge that the Liberal Democrat leader has done more U-turns than a driving instructor, but history might just judge him less
harshly than the British electorate.

It’s easy for political ideals to get smashed on the rocks of pragmatism and Nick Clegg is paying the price for accepting that sometimes his party’s key policies had to play second fiddle to digging the country out of an economic hole.

But what is worrying is that people keep wondering aloud if another Tory-Lib Dem coalition might be the best option post May 7. ‘Best’ might be stretching it a bit. ‘Least worst’ is probably closer to the mark.

The feeling is that the Tories’ determination to scale back the state and slash spending can be tempered by a dash of Lib Dem compassion. But is that really the best we can hope for?

It’s true, to a degree, that things are looking a bit brighter financially. Although that wouldn’t be too difficult.

Five years ago, the infamous note from outgoing Treasury Secretary Liam Byrne said that there was no money left.

Now, compared to the rest of Europe, we’re not doing all that badly. But how much of the fiscal meltdown of 2008 was down to Labour mismanagement? After all, this was a truly global recession. And is everyone really sharing in this much-vaunted recovery? David Cameron’s failure to establish a commanding lead suggests
not.

Business leaders may have printed a love letter to the Tories’ stewardship of the economy in a national newspaper this week, but is that simply because they fear Labour would get rid of zero-hour contracts and introduce a proper living wage?

Labour are not without their problems too, of course. Ed Miliband may have performed above expectations in the leadership debates but those expectations were so low he would have had to limbo dance beneath them.

His failure to convince on the leadership front, and the lingering doubts over Labour’s economic competency, means that, like the Conservatives, their chances of getting enough share of the vote to form a majority Government are slim.

So, despite Mr Miliband ruling out a formal alliance with the Scottish Nationalists, they are likely to have to rely on support from Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP to prop them up, especially given the dire projections of Labour’s performance north of the
border.

It would mean that a country with a population of five million which objected to being governed by a nation of 50 million would now be in a prime position to call the shots for all of us. That can’t be right, can it?

So what are the other options? A Tory pact with Ukip? Not much chance of that, and besides, Nigel Farage can probably only count on winning three seats which won’t be nearly enough and it would probably mean Cameron committing to taking the first steps toward an exit from
Europe which he clearly doesn’t want.

As far as the Lib Dems go, it’s highly unlikely they will be able to play the role of kingmaker again because the 58 seats they won last time look set to be more than halved.

So the upshot is there is a good chance we will all wake up on May 8 none the wiser as to who is actually in charge.

The country will be in a state of limbo because so fragmented is the voting likely to be that
not even two parties getting together will form a strong Government.

Unless Labour and Tories jump into bed together of course – which is about as likely as BBC boss Tony Hall getting a Christmas card from Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson.

The reality is that we’re about to have the weakest, most unstable government for a long, long time.

Astonishing as it may seem, in years to come we might look back and think that Con-Dem coalition was not so bad after
all.