Graham Brady, chairman of the Conservatives’ 1922 committee, recently suggested that the coalition partners would be best off formulating an ‘exit strategy’ ahead of the 2015 general election, saying it would be desirable for his party to articulate what a majority Conservative government would do without the Lib Dem contingent. This naturally promoted speculation as to how long the coalition would last.
YouGov's nationally-representative polling of UK public opinion found that 34% of UK adults believed the Coalition government would stay together until the next election, set for 2015. 28% said it would last until just before the next election, 18% believed it would survive for another one or two years, and 7% of UK adults said the Coalition government would last for less than one year.
We opened up the very same question in YouGov’s PoliticsLab: How long do you think the Conservative-Liberal Democrat union will last?
We also invited you to share your views on what (if anything) the Coalition government’s greatest strength is, as well as its greatest weakness.
Here’s what our panellists had to say:
Q: How long do you think the Coalition between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats will last?
The highest proportion of those who took part in the Labs debate said – in line with the nation’s attitudes – that the Coalition government would last up until the next election.
- Those of you who were of this view said that it was in both parties’ interests to keep the Coalition together, and that both would be at risk politically if an election were held today.
- You said that Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats would be especially motivated to stay in the Coalition because they have had a taste of power that they have not had in decades.
- Participants argued that an early exit would be particularly parlous for the Lib Dems because of the damage done to their party brand because of issues like student fees, and more generally for being complicit in the Conservative austerity programme.
Participants who believed the Coalition government would last another one or two years, tended to say that:
- The lack of popular support for the leadership of each party would provide an impetus for them to stay united, but increasing public pressure and discontent in the backbenches would eventually cause the coalition to break apart.
Participants who thought the Coalition would break apart just before the next election usually argued that:
- Neither Coalition partner has enough public support for them to want to end the Coalition agreement much before the next election, but both would want a brief period in which to differentiate themselves ahead of a national poll.
While participants who believed the Coalition government would last for less than one year often remarked that:
- The differences between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats were so pronounced that backbench pressure, particularly on the Tory side, would cause an early end to the Coalition government, they said.
Read the range of reasons submitted in Labs below as to why participants feel the Coalition would last the distance, or fracture prematurely:
“It is in the best interest of both parties to remain in the coalition. Cameron because he needs their votes to pass any motions in parliament, and Clegg because he knows that come the next election he will be out” Anon
“Both parties need the other to be able to govern, without each other and the resulting required early general election Labour will batter them in the polls” Anon
“They came together to sort out the deficit. If they split before the next election and if things go right for the country, then the one that splits won't get the brownie points. If things stay the same then the one that leaves will get the blame” Matt, Manchester
“Both Cameron and Clegg are too power-hungry to relinquish their roles even one second before they have to. And Clegg knows his political career is over at the next election” Anon
“For the Liberal Democrats this may be the last time they have any power for a very long time; they are going to want to hold onto these golden years for as long as possible. They know that their support has dwindled on broken promises and that they must find a new strategy to gain support for the future. Until then, they will ride out any disagreements within the coalition over their desire to remain in the spotlight until the coalition will cease to exist upon the next election” Chris B, Peterborough
“Neither can risk breaking up the coalition now. The Tories would lose the election, but the Lib Dems would be wiped out. The Libs will grumble occasionally, but buckle under whatever the Tories want rubber-
“Both parties will continue to work together until a moment in time where a contentious issue, such as Lords reform, will be used as an excuse by both parties to rid themselves of any blemishes caused to their own reputation – it'll allow them to go into the election with a degree of plausible deniability” Anon
“Clegg and the Lib Dems don't want to lose credibility and pull out of the coalition, but the toxic effect of working with the Conservatives will affect the votes cast at the next General Election. The coalition will cease well before the next general election so the Lib Dems can maintain some dignity at the ballot box” Matron, Brighton
“I think that Cameron and Clegg are fairly determined to see it through to the bitter end because they are mutually dependent on each other for their survival. … However, I do not think that the coalition will last right up to the next election because the parties will logically have to separate well before it is due in order to regroup themselves for battle. They cannot co-exist in a government whilst simultaneously preparing to oppose each other on a whole variety of policies. I reckon the coalition will come to an end in 2014, maybe voluntarily or maybe by virtue of a split over Europe, Lords reform or who knows what” Leveller, Essex
“The relationship is showing signs of strain, but the leaderships of both parties have a lot to lose if the coalition falls apart. I reckon they'll manage to keep it limping along for a year or two” Anon
“The tail has wagged the dog for too long, and people are sick and tired of the Lib Dems dictating policy and with Cameron being in the wrong party. His own backbenches will not tolerate any further concessions to Clegg & co” Neil S, York
“The strains between the parties will get deeper, and at some point the backbench Tories will push the liberals too far and the coalition will dissolve” Robert AP, London
“The Conservatives will try and distance themselves to attain a majority government” Rhys J, Wrexham
“I think there are vested interests on both sides for keeping the Coalition going, but I think that the Lib Dems might try to break it going into the next election to try to distance themselves from the Tories” Anon
“Both parties are currently lagging in the polls and will not force an election without letting time pass to see if their ratings will improve. Prior to when an election needs to be called, one party will pull out forcing an election to appear strong and in control” Alexander B, North Yorkshire
“Both parties have committed to the Coalition Agreement, and both will want to see out the full term of office before going to the country in a general election. However, both will probably want to end the coalition about three months before the election, so as to differentiate themselves in the eyes of the voting public” Neil T, High Wycombe
“I am assuming that the opinion polls remain low for both parties and that they will need to stay together to prevent a general election. If, however, one party or both see a revival in their polling they may well cut and run for a snap election. This would then look like they were putting their parties ahead of the national interest, which both leaders have been at pains to state they would not do. For this reason I think they will stay together until the last six months or so when they would need to show a clear divide in policy” Ley, London
“It is in the self-interest of both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats to hold onto power for as long as possible because they know if there was a general election now in 2012 that Labour would win a majority. An election will not be called until 2015 because the coalition hope the economy might have improved by then and that Labour under Ed Miliband might lose popularity over the next two and half years. Once the election is called in 2015, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats will become political enemies once again” SM, Manchester
“The present battles go on in secret. Both parties need to establish difference before they ask us to choose between them” Martha, Oxford
“The Conservatives will push Cameron to use his backbone and start delivering to the people that supported the Conservatives, regardless of the Lib Dems” Colin W, South Wales
“Every partnership has moments of disagreement, but the coalition is becoming more about? disagreements than agreements. As the partners realise how little they have in common they will drift apart, and as with any divorce it's the dependents that will get hurt most – in this case the dependents are the citizens of the UK” Rich, West Midlands
“There are cracks starting to show between the Lib Dems and the Conservatives. I believe these cracks will get deeper and the two parties will no longer be able to work with each other” Anon
“These are two parties that are so at odds with each other that it should not last! I think that whilst they perceive it as irresponsible to govern as a minority, it is equally irresponsible to govern at such odds. … Given the current opinion polls, there is absolutely no chance of an election being called at the moment. The only way this could happen is if the Liberal Democrats decide that enough is enough – something they should have done a long time ago. You never know, if the Lib Dem's do decide this, it might even get them some votes!” Anon
“They are ideologically miles apart. If Clegg has joined a coalition in which none of the Liberal's major policies have paid off (AV, constitutional reform), he will be forced to quit the government in an attempt to claw back some political edge” Anon
“The members are turning more and more against each other and a revolt is brewing. I think Clegg will be replaced by someone with more left wing views such as Cable, and the Lib Dems will want out” Julia, Nottingham
Q: What if anything, do you see as the biggest strength of the coalition government?
- Many participants said that a ‘diversity of views’ around the cabinet table, and ‘keeping Labour out of government’ were the coalition’s greatest strengths.
- Some said David Cameron and the Conservatives were the government’s best asset, while others said the inclusion of the Liberal Democrats helped ‘restrain’ the Tories.
- ‘Nothing’ and ‘none at all’ were also popular answers, indicating many of those who took part in the debate were less than enamoured with the coalition government.
And what, if anything, do you see as the biggest weakness of the coalition government?
- ‘Indecision’, ‘differing visions’ and ‘infighting’ were cited by many participants as the coalition government’s biggest weaknesses.
- The leaders of both coalition parties, David Cameron and Nick Clegg, were mentioned individually and as a pair as the coalition’s biggest weakness.
- Many of you criticised Nick Clegg for being too compliant with the Tory agenda, while others said the government would be more effectual if the Tories weren’t held back by the Lib Dems.