Last week was a difficult week for the UK’s coalition government. Tensions in the cabinet over the AV vote were well publicised, and Labour made huge gains in the local elections. To top it all of the SNP won the first majority in the devolved Scottish Parliament. Will the coalition weather the storm? Or is this the beginning of the end for the UK’s first peace-time coalition since the 1930’s? Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems have had a much harder week than the Conservatives. Firstly the referendum on AV returned a decisive ‘No’, the result desired by the Conservatives, whilst the Lib Dems supported ‘Yes’. Secondly the Lib Dems lost 748 councilors, whilst the Tories managed an increase of 86.
Labour made huge gains, winning over 800 more seats. However they still have less than half the number of councilors that the Conservatives have. Most of this can be put down to the unpopularity of the coalition, although voters seem to have blamed Nick Clegg much more than David Cameron. Whilst it is true that the coalition has had a difficult week, the Conservatives have done remarkably well out of it. They have prevented electoral reform and increased the number of councillors they have. Unless Ed Miliband finds a way to present himself as a leader that the public trusts soon, next time around David Cameron will be able to lead his own majority government.
The AV result will increase the pressure on Nick Clegg, as the referendum was the main condition for entering the coalition government. Now that it has failed, it appears that many of the compromises Clegg has made were for nothing. It is possible voters would have forgiven him for supporting spending cuts and increased university tuition fees had there been electoral reform. Leadership change does not seem a viable option for the Lib Dems at this stage. Who would be willing to step into Clegg’s shoes?
The result is likely to make him even more unpopular, and so unless he forces David Cameron to support some Lib Dem policies, the results at the next elections could be even worse than those just passed. The only realistic option is be more aggressive. Whilst it may backfire, continuing along the same lines is not a possibility.