by GK Strategy 29th June, 2015
3 min read

Better the devil you know?

The surprising and unexpected result of a Conservative majority government at the General Election has led many to believe, by the nature of phrase, that the forthcoming five-year term will be more stable than the last half of the decade under a coalition.

For organisations impacted by the Conservatives’ legislative agenda, as informed by the party’s manifesto, it may seem that many of the reforms and saving efficiencies are a foregone conclusion, as opposed to the fluid and reversible direction seen in 2010.

On the face of it, this does seem accurate. Foreboding stories of splits and quarrels in the press between Conservative and Liberal Democrat ministers were standard fare during the previous government’s time in office, with many constantly warning of its imminent demise, particularly in its autumn years.

However, despite notable public disagreements and several rebellions, this ultimate calamitous consequence was never realised. The Coalition met its commitment of seeing out its full five-year term and its legacy includes radical widespread reforms which should not be underestimated – not just in their scope but also in the remarkable way two opposing parties managed to get the legislation passed.

So why should an overall majority for the Conservatives be as, if not more, unstable than its predecessor?

One obvious factor is the disparity between their size of majorities. In 2010, the Coalition enjoyed a healthy majority of approximately 80 MPs, compared to the skeleton 12 David Cameron must manage – “manage” being the operative word. The Conservative party has already been at great pains to demonstrate its unity but the prospect of an EU Referendum on the horizon, and the ambiguity over how Cameron will ask his MPs to campaign on the vote means the Government’s legislative agenda could be disrupted by disgruntled Eurosceptic or Europhile MPs alike. For precedent, you only have to look to the 81-strong Tory MP rebellion in 2011 on a vote to hold a referendum on EU membership.

Moreover, as demonstrated by the 91 MP rebellion to vote down House of Lords reform at the expense of Tory-friendly boundary changes, Conservative MPs have shown they are not shy of igniting a rebellion, even if the party is burned in the process. The absence of an immediate threat to the UK’s public finances, as we saw in 2010, also provides less of an incentive for MPs to follow the party whip.

With the shape of its main opposition still to be formed, the Government will be keen to make this season a summer of love for their party colleagues to shore up support for the potentially fractious years ahead. However, the decisions made in the forthcoming Budget and those in later years will not necessarily be any smoother to implement than George Osborne is used to.

While this blog would not argue coalitions are always more stable than an overall majority – perhaps the opposite is true – it is ironic that the best testament of the 2010 Coalition’s stability may be demonstrated by the instability of this majority government.

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