David Cameron’s Conservative party won the British general election on 7th May 2015. This victory ended five years of coalition government with the Liberal Democrats. Cameron has freed himself from the constraints of coalition partnership with the Liberal Democrats but now finds himself hostage to the parliamentary Conservative party. Cameron’s victory is cursed. The Conservative party is fractured by factionalism, some of which is fatally ideological. Contested legislation will destroy Cameron’s majority, which is much smaller than his first coalition.
Cameron celebrated his victory as a triumph. The pliable and weak Liberal Democrats were swept away, replaced by a malign insidious group. This new coalition is a coalition of the unwilling, an amalgamation of the dissatisfied, the ideologically dispossessed and those riven by hatred on a personal level.
The Conservative coalition is best illustrated by the campaign, led by Cameron, to ratify marriages for gays**. The legislation was comfortably passed in parliament but a majority of Conservative MPs voted against (128 against: 117 in favour). Prime Minister David Cameron’s key modernising policy had to rely on the support of his coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, and the official Opposition Labour party to achieve his social and political goals. Worse: the recurring nightmare of eurosceptic Conservatives has been strengthened by the May 2015 election. With dramatically reduced membership,*** many local Conservative party organisations have been hijacked by ideologues. The 2015 intake of Conservative MPs are notably more eurosceptic than their predecessors. And these MPs, coupled with hard-core eurosceptics, have an unassailable majority inside his parliamentary party. Economics and history mean nothing to these ideologues. The massive over-lap of these two anti-Cameron votes means that they could solidify into a separate Conservative party within the formal party itself.
The principal challenge to David Cameron getting legislation through using Opposition votes is that it can easily be spun that he is not really ‘Conservative’ at all. The more ideological that debate becomes the less room for manoeuvre he has to promote other areas of his agenda. The entire process of rebellion has been given a forum, an official forum, namely the proposed referendum (the In/Out Referendum) on Britain’s continued membership of the E.U. This proposal has taken on almost theological importance in the Conservative party and it appears that the internal divisions in the party will widen regardless of the result. (Theological disputes are not susceptible to negotiation as the adherents are, very often, ‘True Believers’.)
The hard-core Conservative rebels on Same Sex Marriage combined with euroscepticism form a single group. But they are not the only group with a coherent political viewpoint, which probably will oppose future Conservative legislation. The diminishing band of One Nation Conservatives could well oppose dramatic welfare cuts, re-writing the Human Rights Act and reductions in the British Armed Forces. One Nation Conservatives are not as ‘noisy’ as eurosceptics but they exist. And they too know how to effectively challenge a government with a tiny majority. The 2015 Conservative government is a coalition that is less controllable than the 2010 (formal) coalition with the Liberal Democrats.
David Cameron looked very pleased on 7th May 2015 but was that shock and awe as the US military might put it? He is a now hostage to politically passionate MPs. Cameron is a rational, elegant, aristocrat leading a party that is the antithesis of his pragmatic political mind.
*A pyrrhic victory derives from battles King Pyrrhus had with the Romans, 280-79 BC: “If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined.”
**Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 ***In 2014 Conservatives had 135,000 members a 23% decline since 2010.