“Splitter!” shouted the less than massed ranks of the Peoples’ Front of Judaea across the amphitheatre in Life Of Brian. A split in such a small group was farcical, but the same kind of behaviour from the present Government would be serious, which is why, despite the rhetoric being cranked up over the upcoming Alternative Vote (AV) referendum, it isn’t going to happen, at least not yet.
Yes, the alliance between Young Dave’s jolly good chaps and Corporal Clegg’s motley platoon is going through a rough patch – with the two partners campaigning for opposing sides on the AV question, that is inevitable – but a split now would almost certainly bring down the Government, and neither party wants that.
Cameron could try to carry on as head of a minority Government if the Coalition split, but without some kind of understanding with the Lib Dems – and following a fractious split, that might be a big ask – there could be no certainty of passing any legislation, along with the knowledge that every minor party would demand concessions for their support. It would present a circle that could not, for long, be squared.
That would mean another General Election, and less than eighteen months after the last one. This might prove a difficult sell to an electorate beginning to come to terms with spending cuts at both a local and national level: any grudging respect for the determination to push through their package of cuts would vanish if the politicians failed to stay the course.
Any “war dividend”, with the conflict in Afghanistan still unresolved, and the Libyan adventure not moving to a conclusion, would be minimal. The opportunity for the Tory right to move against Cameron, in the vain belief that success would come through ideological purity, might be good news for Labour, but it would bring the potential for groups like UKIP to grow.
The Lib Dems, though, would be most vulnerable to the vagaries of the electorate, as well as the potential for internal strife. The party could easily fracture into its “social liberal” and “libertarian liberal” parts – the Lloyd George and Asquith traditions – but from a base rather smaller than that in the 1920s. From there the journey would be only downhill.So there are no upsides to either Coalition partner in breaking apart their current – if uneasy – alliance. That’s why, after the AV referendum, they will put the mud-slinging of this particular campaign behind them, and carry on.