Cameron's own party may be the problem

Analysis of the state of the Conservative Party in this coalition government has been pushed to the side as Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats have borne the brunt of the media’s gazing eye.

David Cameron has many reasons to be wary of his coalition being derailed. Liberal Democrats are coming under increasing pressure in the face of plummeting support in the polls and though they have held on so far there surely must be a breaking point. Whilst students saw the Tuition Fees as the beginning and end of the party, the other key Liberal principle was the voting change. And though they have just about survived the Tuition Fees debacle, if they lose on the forthcoming AV referendum then surely they can’t limp on any further in their current form. There is also the nagging threat of the Labour party’s intent to oppose the government through weaselling out Lib Dem MPs with deals as opposed to providing a better option to voters. However, the key danger to Cameron centres not on an external threat or even one from within his cabinet but, as so often in recent history, his right wing backbenchers.

The same internal divisions that ripped the party apart in the nineties over the European Union appear to remain. Issues such as the voting change, tuition fees and control orders show that whilst the leaders may be more liberal than we’re used to from a Conservative party, the grass roots remain firmly fortified upon the land laying to the right of centre. There is a constant undertone of grumblings within the party suggesting distaste towards sharing government with a group of Liberals. Yet it must be remembered that without them they couldn’t have formed as strong a government.

The Conservatives didn’t win the election. They didn’t gain the number of seats required to create a single party government, and they failed to do so despite their opposition boasting an unelected, disliked Gordon Brown with a party legacy whose main achievements were an illegal and deeply unpopular war and a global financial crisis. In fact pre election polls suggested that instead of voters flocking back to the Tories, it appeared that the people would turn on mass to Nick Clegg’s wandering band of nomads who until then were firmly placed in the political wilderness. As it turned out that didn’t happen but the whole saga shows a political sea change in the UK.

Liberalism is on the up. The Conservatives can no longer rely on the middle classes and their traditional support base to supply them with enough votes to win elections. Their right wing history is their weakness as attested to by the sheer failure to attract new voters. There were no big gains in Scotland, Northern England or Wales. The reason the Liberal Democrats failed was not as a result of their politics, it was their hopelessness. The old cliché that a vote for Clegg’s party was a wasted vote is still true, no matter how unpopular the big two are, regardless of performances on television debates, there was still no gain in backing the outsider as it could never win. If a dead horse comes back to life that doesn’t mean it will win the Derby. In the end, come Election Day the public stuck with what they knew.

Yet the result was a government that effectively mirrored the public state of mind. The Tories are in charge but they have to change. There is no longer a place in government for the likes of Widdecombe or Tebbit voting against civil marriages, decrying female priests and suggesting the unemployed should “get on their bike and look for work.” The current crop of Conservatives needs to step out of the shadows of those prominent figures. The public attitude is a more liberal one and old ideologies will not do. The right need to understand that they did not win the election and the Coalition Government is presenting them with the unique opportunity to reinvent itself whilst still in power.

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