Published on 1 Jan 2011 Sections

Coalition fault lines, from Westminster to Chippenham

Cuts, job losses and price hikes – 2011 looks set to test stress points in the coalition. Katie Razzall returned to Chippenham to find out how Tory and Lib Dem rivals are getting on at local level.

David Cameron, Eric Pickles, George Osborne and Nick Clegg depicted by masks. (Reuters)

A tough year looms for the coalition as stress points between Conservatives and the Lib Dems are tested by cuts, job losses and the VAT rise. But what is like being a grassroots party activist trying accept bonds with previously sworn enemies?

Chris McKell, from Chippenham Conservative Association, told Channel 4 News he remains hopeful about the Government but not yet convinced.

He said: “It’s not the Britain of my dreams at the moment but I think it’s a step in the right direction.”

But he added that he believes the coalition will be “the end” of the Lib Dems, describing the party as being in a “downward spiral”.

I can’t look at it [the coalition] as a long-term situation. Carolyn Walker, Conservative

Last time I met them, local Conservatives were commiserating their parliamentary candidate after a bitter fight for the Chippenham seat – they couldn’t even refer to the Lib Dem who won (Duncan Hames MP) by name.

Speaking this time, vice-president of the Tory association Carolyn Walker saud she would “never get used to” the sight of Nick Clegg alongside David Cameron.

She said: “I can’t look at it [the coalition] as a long-term situation.”

Jon Hubbard is the leader of the Lib Dems on Tory-controlled Wiltshire Council.

After fighting Conservatives locally for years, he was originally a coalition sceptic too. He admitted he still does not trust the Tories but said he believes his party is putting brakes on certain Conservative policies.

He said: “The thing that I have to remember when I get nervous about being in partnership with the Tories – nationally – is what damage would they be doing if they had unfettered control – and they weren’t being held back.”

But Carolyn Walker thinks her rivals need to accept a reality check.

“Because they had no expectations of power they were able to add anything they liked to the manifesto – often very worthy, but with no chance of ever achieving any of those…

The thing that I have to remember is what damage would they be doing if they had unfettered control. Jon Hubbard, Lib Dem

“They’ve now been hit with the realisation of power – and it’s been an absolute crisis for them.”

But Mr Hubbard insisted the Lib Dems are not on the brink of splitting, adding that he “wouldn’t be surprised” if the Conservatives fell apart instead.

So it may still be passable, but the coalition road ahead – from Westminster to Chippenham – looks set to be a bumpy one with more than a few cracks during the course of 2011.

Read more – What do Lib Dem ministers really think of Cameron?