Given the fluctuating fortunes of the present coalition government, I for one think that it might not last the year. Here is one naive but surely possible scenario.
Let’s start by assuming that the No campaign wins the AV referendum. If that happens, I would not be surprised if Nick Clegg resigned as Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Lib Dems . By then he will have had enough and will want to concentrate on nursing his constituency.
Danny Alexander, as interim party leader and a tougher operator, would then be offered the Deputy slot. If that happens, he would make it a condition that the Lib Dems stay in the coalition on a vote-by-vote basis only. This would be of course a permanent threat to bring down the coalition on a single issue of the Lib Dems’ choosing. That would give them a chance to woo the electorate again, as well as put David Cameron on notice that he can no longer get away with a true blue script for slashing and burning swathes of public services. This development in turn is likely to anger the sort of Conservative MPs who like slash and burn, already mistrust the Prime Minister and who will now seem him as a prisoner of the Left.
The Lib Dems now embark on a campaign to refurbish their credentials with enlightened middle England, who have become collectively disenchanted with Tory misrule but are still too Brown-shocked to back Labour. This initiative involves talking anew to Labour and forcing Labour to talk to them. A joint policy forum or task force of the progressive parties is announced. It meets publicly for the first time for a bridge-building event, much trumpeted, at a country house hotel and conference centre east of Coventry.
After much leaked discussion, a deal is hammered out between the two parties of the Left and Centre Left. Ed Miliband promises to restrain his dinosaurs from attacking Lib Dems as non-progressive sellouts and agrees to remove, if elected to office, the most obnoxious of New Labour’s legacy policies on security, defence and the banking sector. Alexander cements his position by indicating that the Lib Dems would be prepared broadly to back Labour’s economic policy and gives broad indications of what bills he and his party would not necessarily oppose.
The media talk up this show of unity and purpose on the progressive wing of UK politics. Opinion poll readouts show the strategy is working, especially in the NHS and amongst the thousands of sacked public sector workers now fruitlessly seeking work in the private sector. These are natural adherents of some kind of ‘Christian Democrat’ tendency in Westminster, were one available. They have nowhere else to go: angry at Labour and fearful of the Conservatives, they are prey to the Lib Dems’ re-engineered, and increasingly convincing, message.
Further misfortunes for Cameron caused by Tory ‘foot in mouth’ clumsiness of presentation show that he cannot bridge the fault line in the coalition much longer. The day comes when he fails to prevent a Commons vote on some triviality turning into a vote of confidence. He loses this vote, and ‘goes to the country’ mistrusted by many of his own troops and saddled with a reputation for flakiness and carelessness.
In the run-up to the election, Saint Vince announces that he will not seek re-election to his safe seat in Twickenham; William Hague follows suit. The 2011 election takes place, with a higher than usual turnout. Nick Clegg loses his Sheffield seat and, after a lachrymose farewell speech at the count, disappears into private life, refusing an offer of the embassy in Madrid.
Under the traditional first-past-the-post system, which has now failed to prevent a hung parliament for the second time in succession, Labour ‘wins’ power but can only form a government with Lib Dems support. The deal is made.
Having learned the lessons of the outgoing coalition, however, and despite their signatures on the non-aggression pact with Labor, the Lib Dems are now determined to impose tough conditions for their joining a new coalition, with mixed results. Their bid to make David Laws the new Chancellor fails and they have to accept Ed Balls in that pivotal post, with Laws as his deputy. They make sure, however, that they get the Education Secretary slot.
Seeing off a move against him from the left flank of his own party, Danny Alexander is confirmed as the new leader of the Lib Dems. In a palace coup nearby, David Cameron is defenestrated by his fellow Tories and returns to the back benches. George Osborne beats off a challenge by Boris Johnson to become Leader of the Conservative Party. In a pleasing gesture he makes Chloe Smith MP the new Shadow Home Secretary. The year ends with the spectacle of three fortysomething male party leaders fighting it out on You Tube.
Well, it could happen.