Analysis: Lib-Con pact reshapes British politics

The burning question of the last 100 hours has finally been answered. Now we know what the questions will be for the next 100 days.

By Alex Stevenson

The Conservatives’ confidence-and-supply deal with the Liberal Democrats has one over-riding consequence: David Cameron inside No 10. So many Conservatives have waited so long for this moment. But it has not come in the way they would have hoped. The challenges Cameron faces in the coming weeks are clearer, now, but clarity does not make them any easier.

The price of power has been a referendum on alternative vote. Privately many Tories are dismayed by the idea. Few expected the negotiating team to go this far: there is a tension between seeking a deal and pushing the boundaries of your party’s fundamental unity. So headlines about Tory dissent – about the party’s ability to fight and win a referendum on the alternative vote system – are guaranteed.

politics.co.uk understands the question of whether the Tories would expect to succeed in an AV referendum was not even raised in Monday evening’s meeting of the 1922 Committee, the Tories’ parliamentary party. They may have been shortsighted in not even considering this. Or maybe not. There is no guarantee the legislation required for a referendum would make it through the Commons – or, for that matter, the Lords.

And there are huge advantages to being in power. As Michael Heseltine has pointed out, PM Cameron would control both the Commons agenda and the timing of the next general election. The Tories’ immediate euphoria need not be excessively dampened by thoughts of the battles to come.

The Liberal Democrats should be more thoughtful. They have limited the downside risk of a tie-up by avoiding getting into bed with the Tories outright. Even so, they are the party responsible for keeping the Conservatives in power. The first real backlash to this fundamental truth can be expected at the party’s autumn conference, when grassroots activists will cast judgement on this huge decision. There is no guarantee of success.

Labour’s collapse is complete. Stripped of a majority in the Commons, their abject failure to present an energetic alternative to the Lib-Con pact will be viewed as a reflection of the party’s exhaustion. Backbench MPs’ negative comments reinforced the Lib Dem perception that this was not a party which could be relied on. They were reportedly not prepared to budge from the commitments of their manifesto. This hubristic behaviour only led to one outcome: the wilderness.

But grassroots Labour supporters have already privately acknowledged giving up the ghost might be for the best. There is a feeling among many that a Tory government propped up by the Lib Dems will struggle to cope with the harsh spending cuts required in the coming years. The leadership election will provide an opportunity for new blood to reshape the party, which feels in dire need of crawling away and licking its wounds.

The next leader does not face climbing the mountain which proved too high for William Hague in 1997. With the Lib Dems leaning to the right, Labour’s status as flagbearer for progressive Britain will fuel a recovery, it is hoped. Choosing the right figurehead is crucial.

The hung parliament has reshaped the race for political advantage. We’ll begin seeing who has got the best deal out of the last few days in the coming weeks, but all three parties know one thing for certain: a new era is beginning in British politics.