A pig flying down Whitehall?
“Two weeks to save the Tory Party” screamed the headline in the Spectator Magazine two weeks ago. And not for nothing. What the Cameron-sceptic Conservative writer divined was that electoral reform could destroy his party’s chances of ever being in government again.
An outright victory was what was required to avoid such a consequence – any kind of accommodation with proportional representation, he opined, could see the party confined to the back benches for all time.
Hard it is to imagine the Tory Party ever accepting a genuine risk of abandoning first past the post. On the other hand, on this day, exactly seventy years ago, Winston Churchill – not much loved inside his own Conservative Party – replaced Neville Chamberlain as prime minister at the head of a rare and hugely successful coalition government.
We are in a time of omens in which we search for routes through the voters’ wisdom in refusing to trust any party to deliver us from the evil of deficits.
Hard it is to imagine what many have described as the most Euro-sceptic leadership the Tory Party has ever know, doing a deal with a man who has lived the most Europhilic life of any man in present day British politics.
The war disposed of ideological difference in 1940. Will the fight against the deficit do the same in 2010?
The current impression is that it will. But impressions are a dangerous thing in politics. If Clegg wants to see off the Conservatives on Europe, his best bet in a coalition is to demand the Foreign Office. He doesn’t need Vince Cable in the Treasury even if the political classes think the voters do.
The Tories can keep the Lib Dems in check by dumping the Home Office on them – the curse of two defeated MPs, Charles Clarke and Jacqui Smith – or the Ministry of Justice.
More likely still, the Lib Dems will tolerate ONLY the fight against the deficit – support the Tory budget and the outline Queen’s Speech (but retaining the right to fight every bill within it) and put a minority Conservative government into unstable power.
Finally, is this the most unlikely statement we shall hear today? “I resign as leader of the Labour Party to allow immediate elections for a successor – I shall remain prime minister to carry us through the current constitutional moment. I shall then make myself available to serve in whatever subordinate position my successor as Labour leader deems appropriate.
“In the event that the current Clegg/Cameron talks fail, I shall leave my successor free to conduct his own discussions with whomsoever he pleases, in order to attempt a stable Government to take Britain forward.”
Have I just seen a pig flying down Whitehall?