David Cameron has let it be known (but not actually said) that he wants to rule out another coalition after the next election.
His reasoning is almost entirely to do with the internal dynamics of his own party and hardly anything to do with the current coalition government.
What might be the consequences? From YouGov’s research, we already know that around 50% of the electorate is likely to change from what they did at the last election. The electorate is volatile, with strong cross-currents of support moving in different directions.
The background to the next election is going to be quite different from 2010.
We now have experience of coalition government at Westminster for the first time since 1945. The prevailing view before 2010 that a coalition would be ‘weak’ or ‘unstable’ has been proved wrong. Many voters may not like the coalition, but few could argue that its faults have been its weakness or instability. The coalition has meant that a third party has ministerial experience at Westminster. Labour and the Conservatives clearly do not have a monopoly on ministerial competence. The devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have reinforced this point. We will have the Green Party defending a toe-hold at Westminster. We may have a post-referendum SNP competing for seats in Scotland, or even a Scotland which has voted to remove itself from Westminster politics. We have a significant amount of support in opinion polls for Ukip.
So what are the likely dynamics? Professor David Butler has estimated that there is around a 50% chance of a hung parliament after the next election. If neither Labour nor the Conservatives wins an overall majority, it would be possible for one of these parties to run a minority government. Possible, but not easy. There would be a constant need for deals with other parties. As we saw with Jim Callaghan’s government before the Winter of Discontent, or John Major’s struggle with his back-benchers in the lead up to 1997, this may not be a pretty sight.
In 2015, loyal Conservative voters may well stay loyal – but there are not enough of them to give the party an overall majority. Some voters inclined to support Ukip might return to supporting the Conservative Party if they knew that it would only form a single-party government.
But, when it comes to making decisions in individual constituencies, many voters may decide that they would rather vote tactically for Labour or the Liberal Democrats to avoid having a purely-Conservative (and possibly minority) government. A Labour government or a Labour-LibDem coalition may prove a more attractive option to a significant number of voters, and possibly enough to change the outcome.
David Cameron’s anti-coalition views have probably made another coalition more likely – a Labour/Lib Dem coalition.