Wandering from the Centre

Just as hikers on a wet day in the Brecon Beacons might fantasise about having a pair of giant springs for legs so they could jump to the summit of Pen-y-fan, the prospect of a magic majority has excited imaginations at the Conservative party conference.

On April 9, Tories may toast John Major and celebrate the 20th anniversary of the last time they won a majority in the House of Commons. But is an outright victory still possible or is Britain is destined for generations of coalitions?

Tories and swathes of Labour supporters successfully killed off electoral reform earlier this year at the time of the AV referendum because they did not want all future elections to climax with a battle for the affections of the Lib Dems.

A Britain in which Nick Clegg’s party always had a role in government was disparagingly referred to as “chips with everything”.

But the Conservatives failed to win a majority against an unpopular third-term Labour Government last year. There is no guarantee that in 2015 voters will thank them for years of tough economic medicine by granting the party a ballot box bonanza.

There was a tangible excitement about the coalition when it was launched in the Downing Street rose garden and an historic centre-right realignment of UK politics seemed possible but such optimism is hard to find today. Instead, it is presented as the brave compromise needed to rescue the economy.

Tory cabinet members may loathe the Human Rights Act but there is no prospect of tearing it up while Mr Clegg and his colleagues sit at the same table. Diehard supporters of capital punishment and withdrawal from the EU know that without a thumping majority there is no way they can translate their convictions into policy; even the scrapping of the 50p tax seems impossible in a yellow-tinged universe.

But supporters of a positive, modern conservatism need to reignite enthusiasm for the coalition, the opportunities of government and the idea of alliances or another realignment will take place and they will discover in 2015 that their party has become a fossil, located way beyond the centre-ground where elections are won.

Left-leaning Lib Dems waved giant olive branches at Labour last month at their Birmingham conference. And Labour-supporters in Liverpool talked of these Lib Dems not as betrayers of the progressive cause but as if describing a fundamentally decent sibling temporarily stuck with a lousy boyfriend.

Ultimately, it is the electorate that has the magical ability to dispense power – and even a majority. The challenge is to move heaven and earth to address their hopes and fears.

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