A day after the love-in between David Cameron and Nick Clegg, the new coalition Government came down to earth yesterday as Tory MPs expressed doubts that the partnership would last.
The unity between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats showed its first signs of cracking as Tory backbenchers began to question the Government's policies on electoral reform, Europe and a controversial plan to change the Commons rules to prevent a General Election being triggered.
Although the first meeting of the Cabinet was good humoured, reality dawned with appeals for any differences between the two partners to be kept private. A committee, jointly chaired by Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg, will be set up to resolve them.
Lord Heseltine, the Tory former Deputy Prime Minister, said the inevitable public spending cuts would cause “terrible strains” between the two coalition parties and within them. “We are living in a false dawn,” he said. “The sun is shining. Let's enjoy it. It is not going to last very long. There is a rocky road ahead.”
Tory MPs questioned the plan for the coalition to last for five years and doubted it would survive until the next General Election.
Richard Drax, the new Tory MP for South Dorset, said he had grave concerns about how long the agreement would last. Although he could see why it had been made in the national interest, he added: “I have severe reservations about how long a coalition with the Lib Dems can last and about the consequences for our party in the long term.”
Ian Liddell-Grainger, Tory MP for Bridgwater, said the coalition would do well to last two years. “I think if it lasts a couple of years, this Government has done well. The Lib Dems will find it more difficult to take criticism than we will.”
Some Tory MPs privately threatened to vote against a Bill to call a referendum on the use of the alternative vote system for Commons elections.