Belfast Telegraph

Coalition fall-out could be good news for politicians

By Tom Moseley

It was gay marriage wot lost it. Or Europe. Or Cornish pasties. Or maybe reform of the House of Lords. Recriminations flew from all sides after the Government's ritual mid-term humiliation in the local elections.

Northern Ireland's politicians looked on, with no polls in the province. But what happened will have a profound impact on the balance of Westminster politics.

Some MPs took the chance to have their say. For the SDLP's Mark Durkan, the coalition's spending cuts were to blame. This was the line Labour took, claiming it was winning back voters' trust after seizing more than 700 council seats. It was also the day that one of the Government's flagship policies - elected mayors for big cities - flopped.

This is an idea that has not made its way across the Irish sea to Belfast, or Londonderry. And it probably never will, after voters gave it a thumping on polling day.

Mr Cameron had campaigned hard for Yes votes in referendums in 10 English cities, but just one - Bristol - agreed.

Where does this leave the coalition Government? The answer, it appears, is increasingly strained. This could be good news for smaller parties, like Northern Ireland's, because a divided Government increases the importance of every vote in the House of Commons.

As in 2011, the Liberal Democrats endured a miserable evening and party president Tim Farron said it all the morning after polling day when he apologised to councillors who had lost their seats.

Last year however, David Cameron was in a strong position. His party had taken seats from the Lib Dems, walked the voting reform referendum, and was buoyant. This gave him room to manoeuvre and Nick Clegg was given latitude in terms of policy announcements to rejuvenate his troops.

Fast forward a year and it's hard to see how the same can happen. Now, Right-wingers in Cameron's party are snapping at his heels, furious at what they see as the disproportionate influence of their coalition partners.

Any more concessions would be as welcome as the egg planted on Ed Miliband's shoulder on Friday afternoon. The Tories' success against the Liberal Democrats has waned and backbenchers want to go on the attack. Many agree with former Defence Secretary Liam Fox, who pointed out that the Lib Dems make up just one sixth of the Government and accused them of being a brake on economic recovery.

When David Cameron talked in a newspaper interview of a "Conservative-led Government" after 2015, it was taken in some quarters as a hint about a new coalition.

But with the Prime Minister and his deputy facing a backlash from their own supporters, that's probably not a very popular idea in government right now.

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